The Chronicles of Captain Shelly Manhar
by Nabila Fairuz
Captain Shelly Manhar is courageous and cheeky, but she’s also cautious. Her past haunts her like the lingering scent of briny fish on the deck of her ship, The Untamed. Holding her emotions in check for all these years has created a thick slab of scar tissue around her heart, but no matter how hard she tries, Shelly can’t stop searching for resolution.
After losing their entire family to strange and unforeseen circumstances as young children, Shelly and her older sister Anna set off to the curious isle of Tortuga, a land wrought with infamous pirates and a never-ending supply of Caribbean rum. They made plans to fashion themselves as pirates, steal a vessel, and set upon the high seas to search for their father and brother, both of whom had gone mysteriously missing before their mother was kidnapped. It was the only plan that they had and they believed in their cause, but they were only able to succeed by half — Anna plummeted into the waters of Caribbean Sea to her death, leaving Shelly to bring their plans into fruition alone.
After being stranded upon the sands of Tortuga with one of her eyes carved out by the tip of a pirate’s knife, Shelly was nursed back to health by Roy, an older man who took pity upon the troubled teenage girl. Armed with strong resolve and the guidance of her new first-mate, Shelly carefully picked her way across the island in search of a crew to man her newly commandeered ship. A motley crew it became, with men and boys from all walks of life and of age, but Captain Shelly Manhar could not have chosen a more loyal band of pirates to set out upon her mission with. They would spend a few years sailing the seas together as one fine-tuned and close unit, plundering the riches of Spanish and English ships and selling their stolen goods to the highest bidder. But they would also have another mission set upon them, something that Shelly would keep from them as best she could — she would be searching the cabins of each ship they boarded, looking for any information about her parents and brother that she could find.
With many forcefully boarded ships and successful robberies are behind them — not a one garnering any new information as to her family’s whereabouts — Captain Shelly is forced to begin the process of coming clean with her crew as to her true intentions as a pirate. She has recognized that she needs their help and they have indeed earned her honesty, and Shelly knows that if she is going to continue on this quest that she needs a better plan than what she’s been able to come up with on her own. But before something more concrete can be put into action, Shelly and her band of merry men find themselves boarded and put under arrest . . . with the man who is behind it all being a cruel surprise indeed.
As Captain Shelly fights to remove herself and her crew from a Port Royal prison and back to the comforts of her prized ship, she will come across several colorful characters who will lead her down the path of convoluted and tricky adventure. Armed with a poem and a hidden treasure map, Shelly will rely on the wily intellect and bravery of her friends to help crack the code that will bring her a treasure beyond her wildest dreams, and perhaps, will hopefully bring her family back together. Across the seas, in Port Royal, off the coast of San Domingo, and everywhere in between, Shelly will fight her emotions, her enemies, and the ghosts of her past. And as an evil man by the name of Doomham begins dogging her every move in an attempt to find the treasure for his own nefarious designs, Shelly finds herself caught in a time crunch that may ruin everything. Can the hardened pirate find a way to trust those around her and solve the mystery in time, all while embracing her true destiny? Or is she doomed to continue on a loop of destruction and despair forever?
The Chronicles of Captain Shelly Manhar is the debut novel by Bangladeshi-Canadian writer, Nabila Fairuz. In a book that I find is best categorized as a high mid-grade into low YA style set in the fantasy genre, Captain Shelly Manhar can be described as the female counterpart to Disney’s Captain Jack Sparrow. While set deeper into her emotions than Sparrow (as most women are), Manhar is tempted by the prospects of gaining notorious fame, amassing a loyal crew to man her prized vessel, and of course — treasure. But while she is totally at ease with the antics of the typical pirate, Shelly has a quiet conscience, which makes her appealing to the parents of younger readers who are searching for the perfect books to excite and motivate their children.
While Manhar lacks the comedic timing of Sparrow, she is written as a much more complex character and heroine than he has ever been portrayed. With that in mind, I also found myself somewhat confused by Shelly’s emotional roller coaster rides. At times it appeared as if Fairuz was unclear as to who her target audience was and she struggled to maintain the narrative. The whimsical setting of a pirate on a quest to find a hidden treasure with her merry band of pirate friends in tow was sometimes a direct conflict with Shelly’s deep desires for family and her feelings of failure, which added depth, but I wanted it to be pushed in a clearer sense. Fairuz has a clever way of describing these feelings, and I found myself wishing that the overall tone of the book was slightly more serious and that Shelly was a tad bit stronger (she cried an awful lot, which is not necessarily a sign of weakness, but it was a direct conflict with her quick temper and general attitude).
Giving The Chronicles of Captain Shelly Manhar a score of 3.5 out of 5 stars, I recommend it to young lovers of fantasy and the high seas, and especially for young female readers looking for a heroine to hang their tricorne hat on. One thing that lacks overall in the mid-grade category is a strong female presence that isn’t constantly on the alert for romance or bogged down as the typical damsel in distress; in this respect, I find that Fairuz is really on to something by choosing to design her captain as a female. As this is her first attempt as a novelist, she has much room to grow and I am excited to see how far Fairuz will push herself in further endeavors.
Readers who enjoyed the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer or Steel by New York Times bestselling author Carrie Vaughn would also enjoy adding The Chronicles of Shelly Manhar to their treasure of a library. It is a book best read by mature readers ages 10+.