21 Best Pirate Fantasy Books

Perhaps nowhere does storytelling so totally reverse reality as when it deals with pirates. It’s difficult not to like swashbuckling rogues tweaking the noses of the uptight British ninnies as they ply their brave way across the wild, lusty seas.

Of course, actual pirates were about as romantic as the tortures they would inflict on prisoners, including holding lighted matches to the victim’s eyes or keel-hauling, where a sailor had a rope tied to each arm and thrown off the bow of a ship. The unfortunate was then dragged along the length of ship, scraping against the sharp barnacles and possibly drowning.

Fun fact: “Avast!” means “Stop!” or “Stand still!” not “Hello, fellow pirate!”

21
Corsair
by Chris Bunch – 2001

Swashbuckling captain Gareth Radnor has taken command of the Steadfast. But the young captain intends more than seeking his fortune. He wants vengeance against the Linyati slavers who murdered his family. Crewed by a motley band of adventurers, his carrack plunges through the salty waves, striking at the Linyati wherever it can.

And then he discovers something more compelling even than revenge: The Linyati aren’t human…

“Hard edged, salty… a fantasy adventure that will keep you up at night reading.”
— Terry Brooks, author of the Shannara series

20
The Mark of Ran
by Paul Kearne – 2004
Book 1 of 2 in The Sea Beggars series

In a world abandoned by its Creator, an ancient race once existed, with powers so extensive they are considered either angels or demons. Rol Cortishane was raised in a remote fishing village, ignorant that the blood of this long-forgotten race runs in his veins. Driven from home, Rol is trained in the assassin’s craft and tutored by the beautiful but troubled Rowen. Now they’ve set their sights across the sea in search of the Hidden City and an adventure that will make them legends, if it doesn’t kill them first.

In the non-fantasy world, the Sea Beggars (the name of this series) really existed. They were a confederacy of Dutch nobles, who, from 1566, opposed Spanish rule in the Netherlands. They arrived in large numbers to complain to the king, but some wit told the ruling Spanish regent not to worry, for the large group was “only beggars.” The angry group of nobles did not forget the appellation and henceforth called themselves the Beggars. The most successful Beggars operated at sea (i.e., were pirates) and were known as the Sea Beggars.

19
Of Shadow and Sea
by Will Wight – 2015
Book 1 of 2 in The Elder Empire Series

The Guild of Navigators (i.e., swindlers and pirates) has been paid a fortune to secure the Heart, a cursed artifact that will give wild power to its bearer. The Guild’s only lord is greed, their only loyalty to gold, and they would sell the Empire’s freedom for the promise of a quick coin.

Author Will Wight is well regarded for his likable characters and irreverent tone. Most epic fantasies tend to be high-minded and serious, but Wight has a decidedly more down-to-earth approach.

18
Pirate Latitudes
by Michael Crichton – 2009

I’m not a giant Michael Crichton fan. Generally, I think his ideas and research are more interesting than the actual books he creates. This one’s fun, though.

This book was unknown until after Crichton’s death—his assistant found it on a computer. However, there’s evidence Crichton was working on it, on and off, since the 1970s.

Pirate Latitudes is a caper novel set in the high seas with a strong regard to the reality of the times. Because of this, it probably doesn’t belong in a fantasy list like this one. However, it’s a damn fine pirate tale, and that’s good enough for me.

The Historical Novel Society notes: “Crichton’s portrayal of Port Royal and its inhabitants is far more grounded in reality than Disney’s portrayal. Crichton does not gloss over the slavery, addiction and brutality of colonial Jamaica, nor does he endow his characters with abilities beyond their training or station in life.”

So don’t expect Jack Sparrow.

17
The Fox
by Sherwood Smith – 2007
Book 2 of 4 in the Inda Series

You might want to read the first book in the series, Inda, before diving into this one.

Young prince and military genius Inda, forced to turn mercenary after conspirators engineered his exile from Choraed Elgaer, is gathering allies for a sea campaign against the piratical Brotherhood. But Inda’s attention soon shifts toward the ambitious Venn Empire, which wants to use him as a political pawn. The increasing role of magic in these complex international conflicts also conspires complicate his life.

The hardcover version of this book is significantly cheaper than the paperback. Go figure.

“[L]ively… spare yet complex characterizations and a narrative that balances sweeping action and uneasy intimacy.”
— Publishers Weekly

16
Retribution Falls
by Chris Wooding – 2011
Book 1 of 3 in the Tales of the Ketty Jay Series

This is magical steampunk, so it’s a little nuts. I mean that as a compliment.

Sky piracy is a bit out of Darian Frey’s league. Fate has not been kind to the captain of the airship Ketty Jay—or his motley crew. They are all running from something. Crake is a daemonist in hiding, traveling with an armored golem and burdened by guilt. Jez is the new navigator, desperate to keep her secret from the rest of the crew. Malvery is a disgraced doctor, drinking himself to death. So when an opportunity arises to steal a chest of gems from a vulnerable airship, Frey can’t pass it up. It’s an easy take—and the payoff will finally make him a rich man.

But when the attack goes horribly wrong, Frey suddenly finds himself the most wanted man in Vardia, trailed by bounty hunters, the elite Century Knights, and the dread queen of the skies, Trinica Dracken. Frey realizes that they’ve been set up to take a fall but doesn’t know the endgame. And the ultimate answer for captain and crew may lie in the legendary hidden pirate town of Retribution Falls. That’s if they can get there without getting blown out of the sky.

“Beautifully crafted prose and some remarkably imaginative scenes…and Wooding’s sprawling, multifaceted world and rough-and-tumble action will delight steampunk fans.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

15
The King's Buccaneer
by Raymond E. Feist – 1992
Book 5 of the Riftwar Cycle
Book 2 of 2 of Riftwar: Krondor’s Sons

Long recovered from the ravages of the Riftwar, the land and people of the kingdom of the Isles thrive. Nicholas, the youngest son of Prince Arutha, is intelligent and gifted but vastly inexperienced. In hopes of hardening him, his father sends him and his irreverent squire, Harry, to live at rustic Castle Crydee to learn of life beyond the halls of privilege. But within weeks of Nicholas and Harry’s arrival, Crydee is viciously attacked by unknown assailants, resulting in murder, massive destruction, and the abduction of two young noblewomen. An enemy connected to dark magical forces threatens the lands Nicholas will someday rule—if he survives.

“Feist once again delivers a superior, rousing adventure.”
— Publishers Weekly

14
The Pyrates
by George MacDonald Fraser – 1983

The Pyrates is satire, send-up, and love-letter to what swashbucklers have become. It’s a Naked Gun take on Errol Flynn pirates. If you don’t know what “Naked Gun” or “Errol Flynn” is then I envy you because you’re about to discover some great stuff.

The Naked Gun (https://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/60001807)

Errol Flynn (Netflix)

13
Isle of Swords
by Wayne Thomas Batson – 2008
Book 1 of 3 in the Isle Chronicles

Captain Declan Ross searched for riches that will free him and his headstrong daughter, Anne, from the piracy business forever. Bartholomew Thorne, an infamously ruthless pirate, seeks to destroy Ross and any who stand in his way of the legendary treasure hidden by a mysterious order of monks.

Despite featuring a scene where a monk gets skinned alive, this book won a “Mom’s Choice Award” for family-friendly entertainment. Depends on the family, I guess.

12
Red Seas under Red Skies
by Scott Lynch – 2007
Book 2 of 3 in the Gentlemen Bastards Series

Initially poised to rob the Sinspire, the notoriously thief-proof casino where the penalty for cheating is death, Locke and his partner, Jean, are unwillingly sidetracked into joining and then leading a pirate crew, swindling their way across the sea as they had previously done on land.

“[C]harming, unpredictable and fast on its feet and stands surprisingly well on its own given its convoluted plot.”
— Publishers Weekly

11
Pirate Freedom
by Gene Wolfe – 2007

Fresh from the monastery, the former novice finds himself inexplicably transported back to the Golden Age of Piracy, where an unexpected new life awaits him. At first, he resists joining the notorious Brethren of the Coast, but he soon embraces the life of a buccaneer, even as he succumbs to the seductive charms of a beautiful and enigmatic señorita. As the captain of his own possibly cursed ship, he plunders the West Indies in search of Spanish gold. From the stormy waters of the Caribbean to steamy tropical jungles, Captain Chris finds danger, passion, adventure, and treachery as he hoists the black flag and sets sail for the Spanish mainland.

Where he will finally come to port only God knows…

“Wolfe…[fills] his story with duels, treachery, ship-to-ship combat and an abundance of accurate period detail.:”
— Publishers Weekly

10
The Red Wolf Conspiracy
by Robert V. S. Redick – 2008
Book 1 of 4 in the Cathrand Voyage Series

Six hundred years old, the Imperial merchant ship Chathrand is a massive floating outpost of the Empire of Arqual. And it is on its most vital mission yet: to deliver a young woman whose marriage will seal the peace between Arqual and its mortal enemy, the Mzithrin Empire. But Thasha, the young noblewoman in question, may be bringing her swords to the altar.

For the ship’s true mission is not peace but war—a war that threatens to rekindle an ancient power long thought lost. As the Chathrand navigates treacherous waters, Thasha must seek unlikely allies—including a magic-cursed deckhand, a stowaway tribe of foot-high warriors, and a singularly heroic rat—and enter a treacherous web of intrigue to uncover the secret of the legendary Red Wolf.

“Insane god-kings, miniature warriors and sentient animals fight over a powerful ancient artifact in Redick’s dramatic, complex debut… Both adult and young adult readers will find much to enjoy in this tale of sea-faring and bloody diplomacy.”
— Publishers Weekly

9
Captain Blood
by Rafael Sabatini – 1922
Book 1 of 3 in the Captain Blood Series

This book is a little more subtle than its title would suggest.

Dr. Peter Blood is an Irish physician who was once a sailor and a soldier. In the aftermath of the Monmouth rebellion, Dr. Blood is arrested for treason. While he did not actually participate in the rebellion, he aided a wounded rebel, and is tried and convicted nonetheless. The sentence for treason is death, but King James II has the sentence commuted and instead sells Captain Blood and his fellow rebels into slavery.

“Glorious… I never enjoyed a novel more than Captain Blood.”
— Norman Mailer

8
The Assassin's Curse
by Cassandra Rose Clarke – 2012
Book 1 of 2 in The Assassin’s Curse Series

Ananna abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan. She wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiancé. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her.

And when the assassin Naji finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse—with a life-altering result. Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.

“Clarke’s debut harkens back to the best in fantasy/adventure, offering rock-solid worldbuilding, satisfyingly perilous obstacles and a protagonist whose charismatic ’tude goes way beyond spunk. Ananna’s voice grabs readers from the beginning…and doesn’t let go.”
— Kirkus (starred review)

7
Ship of Magic
by Robin Hobb – 1998
Book 1 of 3 in The Liveship Traders Series

Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships—rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. Now the fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship, Vivacia.

For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy. But the fate of Althea and the ship may ultimately lie in the hands of a ruthless buccaneer who plans to seize power over the Pirate Isles by capturing a liveship and bending it to his will.

6
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
by Jules Verne – 1870

While his description of this new thing called a “submarine” is fun even for modern readers, it’s the brilliant but tortured Captain Nemo who steals the show as one of, if not the, best pirate in English literature.

5
The Walrus and the Warwolf
by Hugh Cook – 1988
Book 4 of 6 in the Chronicles of an Age of Darkness Series

On his 16th birthday, churlish Drake Douay finds himself exiled from his homeland amid a treacherous crew of pirates on the open sea. Through battles with sea monsters, mysterious cults, weird technology of a bygone age, and the warring gangs of two pirate lords, Drake explores a world of dark fantasy and betrayal with his keen wit and a sharp sword—his only protection from an early death.

Readers are usually divided: this is either one of their favorite books, or the long litany of adventures becomes boring after a while.

4
Throne of the Crescent Moon
by Saladin Ahmed – 2012
Book 1 in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms Series

A finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Crawford, Gemmell, and British Fantasy Awards, and the winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel.

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. But these killings are only the earliest signs of a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn the great city of Dhamsawwaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

“Ahmed’s debut masterfully paints a world both bright and terrible.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

3
Mad Kestrel
by Misty Massey – 2008

In a world where infants with magical powers are torn from their parents to be raised by the mysterious and powerful Danisoba, who have a monopoly on magic, Kestrel has managed to keep her abilities concealed—and herself free. First hiding in back alleys as a street urchin, she hid when they killed her parents, and then served as a young tavern maid before escaping to sea, where magic is cancelled by water.

Now an adult and quartermaster of a pirate ship, Kestrel loves the freedom of living on the seas. But her way of life could end if anyone on board learns her closely guarded secret—that she has magical control over the wind.

One day a black ship appears, and her life changes. Its captain is a handsome rogue of whom Kestrel is strangely, constantly aware. When Kestrel’s captain is led into a trap and is arrested, she gathers her crew and sets sail in relentless pursuit…

“This rollicking debut combines swashbuckling sea adventure, fantasy and romance with great success.”
— Publishers Weekly

2
Peter Pan
by J. M. Barrie – 1904

Sure, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are great, but it’s the enmity of the pirate Captain Hook that makes this story exciting.

1
On Stranger Tides
by Tim Powers – 1987

This is the inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but it’s different in many ways and stands well on its own.

Puppeteer John Chandagnac, bound for Jamaica to recover stolen money from his uncle, becomes Jack Shandy after pirates attack his ship and force him to join their crew. Shandy’s struggle to accept his new life grounds the story for readers, even as Blackbeard and vodun magicians whisk everyone away to dreamlike lands where the Fountain of Youth itself awaits.

“Powers writes action and adventure that Indiana Jones could only dream of.”
— The Washington Post

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