William Clark Russell is pretty much an unknown writer nowadays, but he did have a rather hearty career in the late nineteenth/early 20th century with stories of the high seas derived from his time in the merchant marine. The Frozen Pirate has nothing to do with the Merchant Marine directly, but at least to this landlubber’s eye, there’s plenty of seagoing savvy in the accounts of navigation techniques, knowledge of how things are south of the Cape of Good Hope, and the way hostile seas treat even the most skilled of sailors.
True to its title, the book, in the words of its hero/narrator, Paul Rodney, tells the story of a shipwrecked sailor (1802) who comes upon the remains of a pirate galleon marooned on an ice flow for a half-century. He finds more than one frozen pirate, but only one that truly matters. Russell’s treatment of that one may constitute the first literary appearance of the notion of cryogenic suspension and put Russell right up there with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
Rather than go into detail on that one, I’ll just say that the details of how Rodney manages to put the galleon into service and what happens once he’s able to sail away make for an original and suspenseful read. It ain’t Moby Dick, but I’ve read nothing quite like it anywhere. Plus it’s full of all kinds of wonderful 19th century terminology. The cold wind is “shrewd;” the characters light their way with “lanthorns;” Rodney “[gulps] down a bolus of conscience.”
I will say I found the ending anti-climatic and weak in circumstance and detail. Nevertheless, after all the fun I had getting there, I wasn’t too disappointed.