The Buccaneer's Apprentice is the second book in a series. I suspect that some of the characters our hero meets toward the end of the book are ones from the first volume (which I haven't read), and therefore I probably missed some layers of meaning in their actions, but the book stands on its own.
Nic Dattore has been an indentured servant since birth. He thinks he'll never work his debt off, since every time he changes masters the amount goes up--and he changes masters often: he's also cursed, a curse that doesn't affect him but which kills his masters. After seventeen years of misery, though, Nic's finally working for a kind man, an actor who runs his own theater troupe. But during a sea voyage, pirates attack the ship; Nic, sleeping alone on the deck, wakes amid the chaos and has to fight for his life.
That is a good beginning. I liked the fight with the pirates, which is followed by an interesting section telling us about Nic's past. I loved Nic's reaction--once he manages to find his way to a deserted island--to the realization that he's now his own master, king of the island.
Then, of course, it turns out he's not on a deserted island after all. In fact, the island is sort of castaway central. Nic meets a mildly irritating man who was press-ganged into becoming a pirate but who says he's retired, an old man with very little personality, and the most annoying girl in the known universe. I could. not. stand. that. girl.
Once the girl showed up, my interest in the book took a nosedive. I still liked Nic, who is a pleasant young man struggling with his newfound freedom and the accompanying responsibilities; I even got to where the irritating ex-pirate didn't irritate me so much. But I wished someone would just push the girl overboard and sail off without her.
The plot wasn't bad. Nic and his newfound companions decide to pass themselves off as pirates to get aboard the ship that had attacked Nic's, whereupon they sail to a disreputable port to resupply. There Nic learns that the old man and annoying girl are not what they seem (well, duh), and the plot thickens considerably. If the coincidences seem just a bit too much, and the pieces fall into place just a little too easily, I can live with it.
What I had trouble with, though, was the serious lack of suspense. Action scenes are often preceded with information that tells us Nic and his friends come out of things okay--for instance, as Nic and co. approach the pirate ship in a rowboat in the dead of night, planning to fight their way aboard if they have to, we're told that later, audiences in the play made of the story really liked this part. The author likes to slow action down with long conversations, too. You just snuck onto a pirate ship, bluffed the captain and crew into accepting you, and discovered that your actor friends are being held captive in the hold? That's a great time to have a twenty-page conversation in which every single character busts your new secret identity, which presumably you need to actually keep secret. Tension is dissipated even more by tons of description and some redundant phrasing--we really don't need to be told that Nic's upset when it's clear from his actions that he's upset.
But except for the needlessly slow pace and that one truly annoying character, the book's fun. I found Nic's journey--physical and mental--interesting and possibly the most unique take on a coming-of-age story I've ever read. The writing, pacing, lack of sex, and only mild violence all tell me the book is intended for younger teens, if you're looking for a good birthday present for a young person.