Pirates and 18th century medical practices and press gangs may not seem to have a lot to do with each other, but Dianne Greenlay combines them beautifully in her book, Quintspinner. The novel, for teens and also for adults, is centered around the Spinner Rings, magical objects that can control different elements or aspects of reality.
Magical rings may seem fantastic, but Greenlay grounds the book with her thorough research. It is that attention to detail that hooked me from the start. In the first chapter, William is introduced. Later, he is caught by a press gang. These groups had the objective of catching men (and boys) and forcing them into service in the Navy. William's kidnapping and "pressing" into the Navy is described with a sure touch, and Greenlay adds details to give the reader a complete picture of life on a Naval ship, even describing how the boys and men went to the bathroom onboard.
Meanwhile, we are also introduced to Tess, the other main character. She is the daughter of a doctor, who is marked from birth with the sign of an acorn and five tears. This birthmark makes her strange or "unclean," according to her father, and he forces her to hide it.
When she first appears, she is at the bedside of Elizabeth, her mother, helping the woman give birth. Again, Greenlay displays a great deal of knowledge on the subject, naming the medicines and the procedures that would have been used by a doctor in that period (and they are not for the faint of heart!)
Tess then witnesses a murder, and by doing so inherits the first of the Spinner rings. Later, she meets the murderer, who becomes her fiancee and mentor, teaching her how to use the Spinner rings to manipulate events. It's a wonderful twist, and one that Greenlay handles superbly.
More than that, Tess and William appear to be real. I truly wanted to know what happened to them, as well as to Cassie, (Tess's best friend,) Smith, (William's mentor,) and a host of other colorful characters. The quick pace and constant action made Quintspinner a compelling read - I sucked it up in one day on the beach.
I did have a few very minor quibbles - the chapters are extremely short, which made reading a bit choppy, and Elizabeth, Tess's mother, was never really developed as a character. I thought that what happened to her could have been more touching if we had gotten to know her a bit better first.
But those are such minor details, and they do not take away from what is a very fine story from a very talented author. I do hope that Greenlay is writing another episode - and soon.