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    8 Books You Should Read If You Loved HBO's "Our Flag Means Death"

    Looking for something to do during the agonizing wait for a Season Two renewal of HBO's Our Flag Means Death? I've got you covered with this list of book recs!

    If you take a look online, it seems like everyone is talking about "the gay pirate show" — and for good reason! Our Flag Means Death, a heartfelt HBO Max Original, is being praised by fans for its LGBTQ+ representation, and its lack of queerbaiting in particular.

    HBO Max

    The show has an absolutely incredible ensemble cast made up of many talented actors, but Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi manage to steal the show as fictionalized versions of The Gentleman Pirate Stede Bonnet and the infamous Edward Teach — aka Blackbeard. If you loved the show and its characters and want some books with a similar feel, I've compiled this list just for you! So let's dive in, shall we?

    Stede Bonnet is in his captain's quarters, smiling and gesturing broadly with a book in his left hand
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    1. Peter Darling by Austin Chant

    Austin Chant / Via

    What it's about: In this self-published adult retelling of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, author Austin Chant tells the tale of Peter Darling, a trans man who, as a child, ran away from his life as Wendy Darling to live as his true self in Neverland. Ten years after returning home to the real world, Peter decides to return to Neverland. He's surprised when he first arrives. His old home no longer seems to need him. Most surprisingly, the only person in Neverland who really seems to have missed Peter is his old rival Captain James Hook, who is thrilled to have a worthy opponent again. But things get dark quickly when a new war between Hook's pirates and The Lost Boys begins. When the passionate rivalry between Peter and Hook gets flipped on its head and the two find themselves drawn to each other romantically, Peter may realize that embracing growing up and everything that comes with it could be exactly what he's needed all along.

    How it compares: This book, like Our Flag Means Death, is an action/adventure novel with a heavy side of slow-burn romance. This story's Peter, like Stede, escapes an unhappy home life where he is not allowed to be himself to go on an "adventure." The book, like the show, is absolutely chock-full of queer joy, sword fights, and witty banter. It was out of print for a while, but a new edition released in 2021. I highly recommend getting yourself a copy!

    Get it from Bookshop or your local indie bookstore via IndieBound here

    2. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

    Penguin Random House / Via

    What it's about: One of three retellings on this list, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a quirky and original Sherlock Holmes retelling that follows Captain John Wyndham, who has just returned to the city of Khelathra-Ven after fighting a five-year war in another universe. Having nowhere to stay, John finds himself staying at 221b Martyrs Walk, living with an intelligent but strange sorceress, Ms. Shaharazad Haas, who happens to have a dark reputation. When Ms. Haas is hired to solve a blackmail case against a former lover — Miss Eirene Viola — John can't help but be drawn to a mystery that will throw his life off course. This case, (and perhaps Ms. Haas herself) gets Captain Wyndham into all sorts of trouble, but despite all of this, no one can keep John from being drawn to her, for better or for worse.

    How it compares: Like Our Flag Means Death, this book is a hilarious historical retelling. Although it doesn't have much romance, both of its leads are queer. Captain John Wyndham (our John Watson) is a gay trans man, and Ms. Shaharazad Haas (our Sherlock Holmes) is a bisexual woman. The central relationship in the book is the friendship between the two, and despite the lack of a romantic component, one can't help but think of Stede and Ed when reading about Wyndham and Haas's antics. It's also just a great ahistorical fantasy with a whole lot of charm that is sure to grab the attention of many who enjoy these same qualities in the show.

    Get it from Bookshop or your local indie bookstore via IndieBound here

    3. In Deeper Waters by F.T. Lukens

    Simon & Schuster / Via

    What it's about: Prince Tal has spent most of his life cooped up in the palace learning to hide his forbidden magic, so when his long-awaited coming-of-age tour finally begins, he is ecstatic to see his family's kingdom for the first time. However, things get complicated quickly when, two days into the tour, Tal's crew discovers a mysterious prisoner on a burning vessel. Tal is tasked to watch over the prisoner, whose name he comes to know is Athlen. The more time Tal spends with Athlen, the more of a connection he feels with him, so when the other boy jumps overboard to escape the crew and disappears, Tal believes him dead and feels responsible. Days later, Tal runs into Athlen alive and on dry land. He's shocked, and Athlen is as charming as ever. But before the two can pursue anything further, Tal is captured by pirates and held for ransom in an attempt to reveal his powers and start a war between opposing kingdoms. If Tal doesn't escape, not only will he die, but his family will be doomed, and Athlen may be his only hope.

    How it compares: Tal and Athlen's relationship has a sort of similar dynamic to that of Stede and Ed. Tal has spent his whole life sheltered. He's wealthy (though troubled) and excited to strike out on his own, while Athlen spends his life alone, mostly in isolation, jumping from adventure to adventure (see the similarities yet?). This is a story about two people who don't think they deserve to be loved nor really understand how to properly love someone else, but they learn together. They get their hearts broken together and they mend them together. And we can only hope the same for Stede and Ed.

    Get it from Bookshop or your local indie bookstore via IndieBound here

    4. The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara

    Simon & Schuster / Via

    What it's about: Mary Reade is a sailor on a Caribbean merchant ship, where her life and livelihood depend on her ability to disguise her gender. Mary thinks she wouldn't stand a chance on the ship if the crew knew her true gender — that is, until her ship is attacked by pirates and she sees something she never thought possible: a girl among the pirate's crew. The sight of this brave female pirate changes everything for Mary. She immediately turns on her own captain, earning herself the chance to become a pirate aboard a ship with Calico Jack and Anne Bonny. Mary's first shot at freedom, however, may not be as easy as she thought it was when living as herself comes with its own risks. Mary finds herself falling for the captain's mistress, and she must decide if she's willing to risk this new life she loves so much for a girl she may love even more.

    How it compares: There are many aspects of this book that remind me of Our Flag Means Death. Besides just the obvious point of the shared pirate theme, the way Mary disguises herself at the beginning of the book, although for different reasons, is reminiscent of Jim's need to disguise themselves at the beginning of the series. The focus on queer love in a time when it wasn't commonly spoken about is another thing the book shares with the show. All of this considered, it's one of the few sapphic pirate books I've read, and like the show, is loosely based on a true story. It's heavier on the romance than a lot of others on the list, so those of you who enjoyed OFMD for the pining are going to want to pick this one up!

    Get it from Bookshop or your local indie bookstore via IndieBound here

    5. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

    macmillan publishers / Via

    What it's about: The first book of V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy follows Kell Maresh, one of the last of a rare type of magician called Antari, who have the ability to travel between parallel versions of London; Red, Grey, White, and, at one time, Black. Kell is a prince adopted by the Maresh family of Red London. In White London, he serves the empire as an ambassador to the Court of George III, where there is no magic left. Unbeknownst to his royal family, Kell spends his free time as a smuggler, allowing paying customers small glimpses into worlds they will never see. Despite how lucrative it is, Kell's side hustle has dangerous consequences — ones that he is starting to learn firsthand. When one of his jobs goes wrong, he escapes to Grey London where he meets Delilah Bard, an ambitious pickpocketer who forces Kell to take her to another world for a proper adventure. The further the two travel, the more Kell puts at risk. And now he must go to great lengths to protect his magic from those who seek to take it from him.

    How it compares: Taking place almost exactly 100 years after Our Flag Means Death, A Darker Shade of Magic is another historical fantasy that features pirates. While it does include many more fantasy tropes than the show (such as its main theme, blood magic), one thing the book has in common with the show is the casual queerness. The book's author, V.E. Schwab, has said of the series that "characters should be presumed queer unless stated otherwise." That's exactly the feel of OFMD — with so many crew members in same-sex or queer relationships. Also, like the show, this book is a whole lot of fun. It's only the first of three, so buy the book, buckle in, and prepare to spend lots of time with these wonderful characters!

    Get it from Bookshop or your local indie bookstore via IndieBound here

    6. The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

    Penguin Random House / Via

    What it's about: This young adult fantasy takes place aboard the pirate ship Dove, where Florian (born Flora) takes on the identity of a man to ensure the acceptance and protection of the ship's crew. Florian was formerly a starving orphan and joined the pirate crew with his brother out of necessity. They had one goal: survival. But as the ship — which had been masquerading as a passenger vessel — begins selling its passengers into slavery, Florian becomes drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, a passenger en route to a dreaded arranged marriage. Now Lady Hasegawa will be lucky to escape with her life. The two are thrust together in the adventure of a lifetime and maybe caught off guard by a little romance along the way.

    How It Compares: This book, like the show, explores gender identity through a gender non-conforming pirate. Although this time, he is one of our main characters! Also like the show, there are dark themes (torture, sexual abuse, and racism) as well as explorations of colonialism and imperialism, so it is not always an easy read. This book has great world-building and wonderful queer representation. If you enjoy queer pirates, social commentary, and magic, give this one a go!

    Get it from Bookshop or your local indie bookstore via IndieBound here

    7. A Song of Silver and Gold by Melissa Karibian

    Hansen House Books / Via

    What it's about: Princess Kaelyn of Avalon — known to her crew only as Captain Kae — has disguised herself as a man in order to lead her crew on a dangerous journey through turbulent waters on a mission to eradicate the world of sirens, a journey fueled by revenge for the death of her brother. When the crew experiences a fatal siren attack on Avalon's Harbour, Kae prepares to set sail to eradicate the dangerous species once and for all. Unbeknownst to Kae, Aqueara (a siren warrior of the underwater kingdom of Meyrial) is on a mission to bring back her kingdom's dead princess, whose death she is responsible for. She is tasked with carving out Kae's heart. When Kae’s and Aqeara’s paths cross, they are both taken aback by an immediate connection that throws them into a whirlwind romance, complicating both of their plans. Kae must decide if her desire for revenge is worth sacrificing the woman she loves, and Aqueara must choose between resurrecting her beloved kingdom's princess or saving Kae's life.

    How it compares: This is yet another pirate book with a woman disguising herself as a man, similar to the situation of our beloved nonbinary pirate, Jim, on Our Flag Means Death. The show so far hasn't shown us any fantasy elements like sirens, but it certainly has a romance that begins with a plot for murder. Much like Ed's initial plan to murder Stede and take his ship, Aqueara's spell to resurrect her kingdom's princess involves killing the person she loves. In order to find out if Aqueara, like Ed, decides to abandon her murder plans in pursuit of love, you'll have to read the book!

    This book will be released on June 15. Pre-order it from Bookshop or your local indie bookstore via IndieBound here

    8. And finally, The Life and Tryals of the Gentleman Pirate, Major Stede Bonnet by Jeremy R. Moss

    Köehler Books / Via

    What it's about: This biography explores the life of the real Major Stede Bonnet, the heir to established land-owning aristocrats in Barbados. Stede was a fortunate man; he had a good reputation, wealth, and access to good education, unlike most in his day. Despite all of this, Bonnet was drawn to a life at sea, or maybe dodging his life as a husband and father, when he escaped into a short-lived life of piracy. The book follows Bonnet, who was active during the Golden Age of Piracy, through his two short years as a pirate. The reader learns of his improbable and exciting journey, as well as about some of those whom he stood alongside, including the one pirate with whom Stede Bonnet would be forever associated: Edward Thatch, known to the world as the infamous pirate Blackbeard. 

    How it compares: This is a must-read for anyone interested in the actual history that the show is very loosely based on. One of the few books that give an in-depth look into the life of Major Stede Bonnet, this book is well-researched and highly recommended for lovers of pirate history!

    Get it from Bookshop or your local indie bookstore via IndieBound here

    Have you read any of these titles? If you have any suggestions of your own, share them in the comments!

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