SWASHBUCKLERS by Dan Hanks (BOOK REVIEW)
“They clinked glasses. A sparkling sound, almost magical in its melody. A musical chime that, to Cisco, in that moment, spoke of finally coming home. Because, he suddenly understood, as he took in all their faces, sometimes it wasn’t just about the place you returned to. Sometimes home was the people who were there to greet you.”
Swashbucklers is the upcoming novel by Dan Hanks, it’s a book I’ve known about for quite some time now, and it’s one I’ve been more than a little excited to read. This is Hanks’ second novel, with the first being Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire, which I read last year. Although both books are entirely unrelated, Hanks certainly has a distinctive style. I have found his stories to be such refreshing escapist reads. Hanks captures the same sense of adventure and thrill we get from those high-octane 80‘s movies and transcribes it across the page.
Swashbucklers begins with a mysterious murder, one which causes our main protagonist, Cisco Collins, to return with his son, George, to the town he once grew up in. Yet Dark Peak is no ordinary town, for in 1989 a supernatural event occurred, one which involved a pirate ghost called Deadman’s Grin, the gates of hell being opened, and where four young kids united to save the world. Over the years that event was covered up under the pretence of a gas leak, and those who spoke otherwise were mocked. With signs of history repeating itself, Cisco can no longer run away from his past, he remembers exactly what happened that night, and he is determined to make his friends see the truth and once again he knows they must save the world. If not them, then who else will?
”He’d come back to Dark Peak wondering if he could recapture some of the old magic. Even hoping that the monsters would return so he could fight them again.
Yet it turned out you could never go back to how it was. And now the nostalgia might actually kill him.”
Although this story is set in modern day with iPads, mobile phones and Twitter, the narrative simultaneously drips in 80’s nostalgia. From the first few chapters my mind made such strong connections with 80’s movies such as Ghostbusters and The Goonies, almost as though Swashbucklers is a sequel to both of those, with the kids reuniting in their adulthood to eradicate an evil they once believed long dead. Throughout the book I saw similar dynamics between the characters in Swashbucklers and the characters in Ghostbusters, for example in the way that the four friends, Cisco, Doc, Michelle and Jake, bantered, sniped or good naturedly mocked each other. Ghostbusters also entailed many of what I like to call, what the actual fuck scenes, where the weirdest giant monsters terrorised the city, and Hanks, to my delight, even nailed that bizarreness too. I saw the adventure of The Goonies, with the gang always looking for clues and traps, and I even noticed the comedic cynicism found in films like The ‘Burbs where the older protagonists are seen as utterly ridiculous for still behaving like children. Furthermore I noticed several chapter titles were actual lines from movies too, which I found was a brilliant touch.
I feel that the 80’s is an era which many of us look back on with fondness, not just because of the movies but also the games, toys, books and the animations, which were all hugely popular. I feel it’s why shows such as Stranger Things and Cobra Kai are so appealing today, as they offer a gateway into the past for those who still remember the era, and big props to Hanks for managing to reference both in this book! You could say I’m a bit of an 80‘s nerd, I grew up obsessively watching these films, falling in love with them every time, and so I was absolutely grinning through many chapters in Swashbucklers and took sheer delight in spotting all the homages which Hanks pays towards that era.
Hanks beautifully captures the essence of nostalgia, the magic of one’s childhood where the possibilities are endless, and then expresses the emptiness we feel when we lose that in adulthood. His characters show how the weight of responsibilities can pile up and adulthood can significantly take its toll. Although much of this is illustrated in jest, it was especially fun to see four adults in their forties battling monstrous evil whilst simultaneously juggling who will pick their kids up from school, Hanks does touch upon more poignant issues too. Although Doc, and her wife Michelle, Jake and his wife Natalie, have their lives in order, Cisco struggles under the strain of being a single father. At the beginning of the book Cisco appears weary, almost detached from his son, and rather overwhelmed. We clearly see that though parenting holds many joys, it can be an exhausting battle too. Cisco is a character I believe holds many regrets, who in reality wishes for a redo button but doesn’t fully understand the cost of what he could lose were he to start over.
“He was nestled in the heart of his childhood again, in the place he’d been struggling to reach most of his life. Everywhere he looked were long lost emotions. Breadcrumbs back in time, to those elusive moments in the past.”
On a deeper level, Hanks brings to light how easy it is for our lives to fall into mundane routines which become so monotonous you stop appreciating the things you have, you lose that spark you once had, and you long to find it again. Hanks delves into finding the balance between having fond memories of your childhood but also being rooted in the present. Whilst you can treasure who you once were, you can also learn to accept who you are now. I loved how the book explored the special bonds we make with friends in our childhood, and how we should hold dear the relationships which mean the most to us, but also that the enchantment we find in childhood doesn’t necessarily have to leave us. Writing or reading fantasy stories in itself is a major gateway into reliving the magic we once felt. I feel that is a significant theme in which Hanks examines, and I very much loved that sentiment.
“These places were alive. They were living entities, filled with shadows and monsters and faeries and goodness and light and darkness and death. They were history. They were longing. They were love and fear and hope.”
Throughout this book, I laughed at the bizarre and chaotic, I revelled in the many creepy possessed monsters, and I reminisced right along with all the characters. Swashbucklers brings all the magic of the 80’s back to life, and delivers a fun, action-packed tale with heart.
ARC provided by Dan Hanks and Caroline at Angry Robot Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you both for the early copy! All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Swashbucklers is released 9th November but you can pre-order it here.