There's a debate going on, both in and outside the publishing industry, about self-published books. Are there benefits to self-publishing? Are there detriments? Will a book be considered legitimate if not backed by one of the Big Six publishers? The short answer is: Yes to all of the above. Publishing independently allows an author free reign over the creative process. It can also be an “easier” path to publication because you’re doing it yourself. On the flip side, some insist that all that hoity-toity business involving slush piles, rigorous line-editing, and copyediting big publishing houses or trained editors provide are, well, necessary and germane to producing a readable book.
I'll refrain from officially weighing in on the matter for now. But I will say that every once in a blue moon, I come across a self-published novel (young adult and adult alike) or work of nonfiction that completely wows me with its put-togetherness (yes, I know that isn’t a word). BlackHeart’s Legacy by Sally Copus is one such novel and, lucky for you, it lands right smack in middle-grade territory.
Blackheart's Legacy (i.e. Book One of The Odyssey of Jon Sinclair) opens with the perfect kid-coveted hook: a seemingly foolproof plan gone terribly asunder. Alistair and Kathryn Sinclair—12-year-old Jon’s grandparents and guardians following the death of Jon’s parents in a mysterious plane crash—are busy making preparations for a trip aboard their time-travel capsule Carousel. In tandem with Jon’s studies in school, the voyage is chartered for 1776 Philadelphia, just in time for the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While retired NASA employee Alistair won’t be making the journey this time around, Grammy goes along for the ride to prevent any mishaps from occurring.
But, of course, mishaps will—and do—occur. With a loud bang and a classic science-fiction glurp, Grammy and Jon soon realize that the ship’s navigation device has malfunctioned, sending them careening to the shores of 1692 Port Royal, Jamaica, instead. And you know what that means . . . pirates! After a wayward “exploration stroll” through the jungle all by his lonesome, the ever-naïve and lovable Jon is kidnapped by the crew of the Black Opal led by the notorious Captain BlackHeart, while Grammy—disguised as a boy named Gramm—gains passage as a cook on the ship of BlackHeart’s conniving rival, Shark Scar, in hopes of eventually crossing paths with Jon and planning their collective escape.
Already a delicious page-turner, the novel begins to pick up speed. Bring on the clever surprises! First and foremost, the natty BlackHeart isn’t as nasty as he initially seemed, especially since taking Jon on as his personal cabin boy. It’s easy to root for him as he mines shipwrecks for hidden treasures and fights raging storms and fierce battles with gnarly buccaneers aboard rival ships. Gramm’s grandmotherly resourcefulness in winning over Shark Scar’s mutinous crew is both cunning and amusing (one wonders if there’s a little Gramm in Copus), and Alistair’s unexpected appearance toward the end of the novel baring news from the future of a cataclysmic earthquake adds an element of urgency to an already nail-biting finale.
Aside from spinning a good old-fashioned yarn full of all the things kids love: time-travel, sea-faring adventures, natural disasters, and, yes, pirates, Copus has done so with panache. Her grammar and sentence structure is impeccable. The story flows, jolts, quiets down, and explodes at all the right moments. As far as her characters are concerned, who doesn’t love the idea of a boy getting up to no good with his grandparents? The best part is that Copus has planned another book in the series that takes Jon, grandparents, and BlackHeart to the Lost City of Atlantis. If it’s anything like the first book, it’s bound to be a sleeper-hit.
According to the Author’s bio, Sally Copus was the former CEO of a direct marketing firm. Now she tells stories to her grandkids before bedtime. As a former grandkid whose grandmother told the best stories in town (thanks Sunny!), I can only say this: Get this woman an official book contract! BlackHeart’s Legacy is beyond worth it.
Like most bookworms, Alexis Burling has loved reading since she could crawl. She has worked in the publishing industry for over a decade and has reviewed both children's and adult books for prominent media outlets such as teenreads.com, Publishers Weekly, and the Washington Post.
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