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Cinnamon and Gunpowder gave me the same warm, fuzzy feelings I experienced with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Now, I’ll grant you that the former is historical fiction set on a pirate ship and the latter is sci-fi set on a drilling rig in deep space, so they’re perhaps not the most obvious pairing. But as I reflected on the things I liked about Cinnamon and Gunpowder in preparation for writing about it here, Chambers’ book kept bobbing to the surface of my mind. The settings, characters, and plots may be different, but the glowy heart feeling upon turning the last page is the same.

In both books, the characters have their differences but present a united front against a hostile world. Brown’s characters, as the crew of a pirate ship led by a red-haired, swashbuckling female captain, scuffle amongst themselves at times—and there may be a saboteur aboard!—but they share a common enemy in an evil corporation that sacrifices people for profits. I love reading about unlikely teams that work well together because it seems such a rare phenomenon. It’s much easier to find stories about dysfunction, backstabbing, and cutthroat competition. (Not that I’m too good for stories like that! It’s just nice to change it up every now and again.)

Another similarity the books share is that they are narrated through the eyes of a newcomer aboard, and both central characters have some preconceived notions to reevaluate as they get to know their new homes. Owen is captured and forced to use his talents as a chef to benefit Captain Hannah Mabbot, which he takes issue with considering she murdered his boss, a man Owen greatly respected. It turns out, though, that despite Owen’s total confidence in his rightness on literally everything, life on the high seas might change his perspective.

Pirates, romance, gourmet meals, swashbuckling! Cinnamon and Gunpowder really has it all.

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AuthorTaryn Pierson
CategoriesRecommendations

Find it at your library!

Immediately prioritized this book by a Haitian-American writer after reading about the "shithole countries" comment, and I'm so glad I did. There's so much going on artistically, it leaves you in awe even as it breaks your heart.

Sophie grows up in Haiti with her aunt until age 12, when she is sent to New York City to live with her mother. It would be hard enough to live between two places, never having a true sense of home, but Sophie’s life is further shadowed by the painful knowledge of why her mother couldn’t raise her (which I won’t spoil here). Danticat explores how the legacy of violence and hurt are inherited by each new generation, and the herculean effort of will required to break those patterns.

Even though thematically this is a tough book to read, the prose is spare and the pages fly. I never could decide if I wanted to speed up so the pain would be over, or if I wanted to slow down and let myself feel the impact. This is the kind of book you could read over and over and still not catch everything Danticat is doing, but I don’t think my heart could handle multiple close readings.

At the back of my paperback copy, the publisher includes a note from Danticat addressed to her character, Sophie, in which she says she feels compelled to explain that not all children growing up in Haiti suffer exactly like Sophie does. Apparently some readers of the book have not understood that one character’s experiences from one fictional work cannot be generalized over the actual human population of an entire country. It created uncomfortable resonance when, after reading her eloquent response to the “shithole” comment, it occurred to me that Danticat is still, all these years later, having to explain herself to an audience of ignorants.

Posted
AuthorTaryn Pierson
CategoriesRecommendations