Monday, January 25, 2016

ARC Review // Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

"From the moment I saw you, you captured my heart and I was powerless to do anything about it.”

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

Published by Simon Pulse
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Pages: 384

My Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.

Edward "Teach" Drummond, son of one of Bristol's richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There's just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.

Following her parents' deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to CuraƧao—where her mother was born—when she's stuck in England?

From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.
// I received an eGalley of Blackhearts from Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  //

Teisha's Review

Once upon a time, there was nothing black about Blackbeard's heart...

Or, at least, that's the story according to Nicole Castroman.

Blackhearts, Castroman's Young Adult debut, is a "Pre-Pirate" novel that details the events of Blackbeard's early life.  If you've ever wondered how Blackbeard came to be the infamous pirate we've all heard and read treacherous tales about, Castroman has an answer for you: love.  Blackhearts is a gorgeous and eloquent love story that gives heart and soul to a man whom history has told us was cold and menacing.

And, it was the perfect start to my year of reading!

Here are the reasons why I gave Blackhearts 5 out of 5 stars:


First things first, it is very important to note that Blackhearts is not an adventure story.  Nor is it a pirate story.  There is no treasure hunting or sword slinging.   At its core, Blackhearts is a character-driven love story.  And, the only things that the characters explore are each other's hearts.  (Look a little closer at the cover.  The ship is encased in a glass bottle, symbolic of the two main characters' inaccessible desires for freedom.)

While Blackhearts isn't filled with traveling and action and adventure, I still found it to be a captivating story.  Because it is filled with layers upon layers of tension and beautiful writing and complex characters.

There were some plot points in the story that I found predictable, but were no less exciting to read, because Castroman's story-weaving skills are spectacular.  But there were a lot of other moments that I wasn't expecting that had my heart galloping at full speed.

And then, there's the ending.  Going into this story, knowing what I knew about Blackbeard, I just knew that this book would not end well.  No spoilers here!  But, I will say that  Blackhearts ends rather abruptly, and on a soul-shattering note.

Blackhearts was not at all the story I was anticipating.  However, I still loved it.  (Probably much more than I would have loved a story about pirates and ships and treachery.  Admittedly, I've never been a fan of the Pirates of the Carribean franchise or really any stories about piracy.)  When I first picked up Blackhearts, I knew very little about Blackbeard.  But, when I finished I found myself scrolling through Wikipedia pages and other websites trying to learn more about his life and his world, comparing the book to what's true.  I think that any book that leaves that kind of impression is definitely worth reading.

 Writing and Worldbuilding

Look!  I made a cute little book aesthetic picture.

When I opened up Blackhearts, Castroman's world of 17th Century Bristol came to life before my eyes and the rest of the world immediately fell away.  My mind easily settled into the world thanks to Castroman's simple yet poignant writing style.  The setting (and the story) reminded me of two of my favorite screen dramas -- Belle (2013) and Downton Abbey.  Anne's character, her struggles, and her romance reminded me of Amma Asante's biopic of Dido Elizabeth Belle.  And, the drama between the maids of the Drummond household brought Downton Abbey to mind.  So, if you're a fan of either of these on-screen works, you will probably love Blackhearts!

I love that Castroman brings in so many small details of Early Modern Britain to round out her world.  She touches on crimes of piracy, of course.  But, she also focuses on important works of literature from the time such as Milton's Paradise Lost and William Dampier's A New Voyage Round the World.  (The fact that Anne and Teach both share an appreciation for literature is one of my favorite aspects of the story.)

★ Characters

Blackhearts is told from both Anne and Teach's perspectives.  So, the story isn't one-sided.  Readers get to know both Anne and Teach as individuals.

Anne is my favorite because she's an admirable heroine.  The illegitimate daughter of a merchant and a slave, she works as a maid for Teach's father.  She is strong in the face of adversity with a "tender heart and fierce strength".  And, she's brave and never afraid to hold her tongue.  She and Teach come from very different backgrounds, and yet they are vastly similar which is what makes them compatible.  You should toss out any preconceived notions of Blackbeard that you may have before picking up Blackhearts because Castroman's Edward "Teach" Drummond is a completely different person.  Teach is kind, with an open-mind and an open heart.  And, he's also incredibly swoonworthy (no mean-mugging, scary-faced pirates here).

I love that Anne and Teach are both independent.  They've each got their own goals -- he wants to Captain a ship and she wants to return to her mother's homeland of the West Indes.

Castroman has written two wonderful main characters whom you will root for, sympathize with, and hold near and dear to your heart long after you've finished reading.

★ Romance

There are two types of love stories that I'm a sucker for -- stories about first love and stories that feature oh-so-slow burn romances (the slower the better).  Imagine how excited I was when I discovered that Blackhearts falls into both of those categories.

Anne and Teach's love story feels real -- there is nothing implausible about it.  In the beginning, they hated each other.  But they eventually settle their differences when they realize just how much they have in common.  And, from there, their love takes shape beautifully.  Theirs is a romance doused in angst and tension. They struggle between loving themselves and loving each other, between doing what they need to do for themselves and what they want to do for one another. Watching them each fight with their heads and their hearts was torturous but in that good way.  (You know exactly what I'm talking about.)

One of my favorite moments in the story is when Teach says to Anne: "You're my Queen."  When I read those words, I swear my heart caught fire.

That slow burn will get ya.

★ Diversity

"What do you see when you look at me?" Anne asked.  A myriad of words flew through his mind at her question.  Strength.  Intelligence.  Beauty.  Compassion. 
"I see you."
Anne's expression softened somewhat.  "Because you've taken the time to speak with me.  And to listen.  But most people see only how different I am."

I was not expecting for Blackhearts to focus on the topics of race and prejudice in the way that it does (or at all really).  I've made it a personal goal to start reading more books that feature diverse characters and issues (especially racial diversity).  So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the main character of Blackhearts is biracial.

My knowledge of Early Modern Britain is sparse, so I did a little research on the status and treatment of people of color in Britain in the 17th century. (And, here's the link to another source.)  To easily sum up what I read, people of color in Britain faced discrimination and unfair treatment, but not as cruelly or brutally as those in America at the time.  And, I think that Castroman depicts this effectively in her story; there is no sugar-coating.  We see people turn their noses up at Anne and call her names and disrespect her because "they didn't know how to react to the mix of her mother's coppery skin and her father's blue eyes."  But then there's Teach, the man who shifts the balance, the man who is able to look beyond the color of Anne's skin and love her for who she is.  And, goodness, I just love his character because he stays woke.  He doesn't allow the toxic mindsets of those around him to cloud his wide-eyed perception of the world.

I loved loved loved Blackhearts' focus on race and diversity.  This is a story, not just about love, but about the acceptance and appreciation of other people's differences which is so incredibly important to us here and now.

Final Thoughts

I think it's needless to say that I absolutely adored this story.  And, I. NEED. MORE!

 The book has been marketed as a standalone, but the ending leaves us hanging.  I sincerely hope that it gets picked up for a sequel because I need answers.  History tells us what happens to Teach, but...what about Anne?

Overall, Blackhearts is an enthralling, heart-wrenching love story.  It's got dynamic, well-written characters, an intriguing plot, and a great love.  What more could you ask for?

I'll see you at the bookstore on February 9th!  Because I'll definitely be picking up a finished copy of this one.

About the Author

Nicole was lucky enough to come with her very own best friend...she has a twin sister who can read her mind and finish her sentences for her.

At the age of 13, she went to Europe for the first time and it changed her life. She loves learning about different people, languages and cultures and speaks fluent German. She knows enough Spanish to get herself into trouble and can still read the Cyrillic alphabet from when she studied Russian.

She received her B.A. from Brigham Young University and has lived in Germany, Austria and two different places called Georgia. One is located on the Black Sea. The other is the state of Georgia where she now lives with her handsome husband and two beautiful children who continue to amaze her.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Pinterest

"You're no dandy.  I'll call you Blackbeard.  Welcome aboard."

  1. Will you be picking up Blackhearts?
  2. Do you love Belle and Downton Abbey as much as I do?
  3. Have you read any other pirate love stories?  Leave me some recommendations! 
  4. It also seems that I'm in the mood for historical romance, so I'll take some of those recommendations, too!

Talk to you very soon!


  1. This was a great review! I definitely will be checking this out when it comes out!

    1. Thank you! Let me know when you read it because I would love to discuss/fangirl with someone. :)

  2. Fabulous review! I really enjoyed this one too. I loved all the things you loved about it too- the romance, the world, the characters themselves were fabulous, and the diversity was so, so great! The ending destroyed me though- what will I do if there is no sequel!? I cannot handle it. And I must say, this has been my only pirate love story. Maybe my only pirate story in general, actually!

    1. Thanks, Shannon! I think that if there isn't a sequel my life might never feel complete. I will list the ending of Teach and Anne's story up there amidst the world's greatest mysteries, somewhere between Big Foot and Stonehenge. But seriously, I'm sure that once more readers fall in love with it, it'll likely be picked up for a sequel. Also, I haven't read any pirate stories either! I want to read more, but I'm afraid they won't live up to this one.