She’s Got That Pirate Salt: Review of The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper by A.J. Fitzwater
The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper. By A.J. Fitzwater. Queen of Swords Press, April 2020.
A. J. Fitzwater’s The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper is a joyful collection of seven linked stories chronicling the life and loves of Cinrak, a lesbian capybara pirate. The winner of the 2021 Sir Julius Vogel Award, the collection is a delightful romp through magical lands and a heartfelt affirmation of kindness and friendship; celebrating queer lives in loving detail, it is also a salty rebuke of cruelty and hate. In a larger sense, The Voyages offers us a story that models “the voices that need to be heard and the bodies that need to be seen,” as Fitzwater puts it, when a marginalized population is bombarded by the message to give up and go away. Cinrak, secure in the power of joy, love, and friendship, does neither.
Early on, readers are introduced to one of the collection’s major themes through “Young Cinrak,” a coming-of-age tale in which we meet Cinrak as a wide-eyed kit. Embarking on a voyage of self-discovery, Cinrak leaves behind life in an orphanage to fulfill her dream of becoming a pirate by pledging herself to the ship of the genderqueer rat pirate, Mereg. The remaining tales follow Cinrak through her transformation into an experienced adventurer.
Along the way, Cinrak becomes a mentor to a daring young chinchilla, the trans cabin-kit, Benj; a devoted polyamorous partner to the Rat Queen, Orvillia, and the marvelous marmot diva, Loquolchi; ally to a fairy, a kraken, and a drag queen mer; and a trusted voice in the pirate’s union, The International Rodent Aquatic Trade Entente (IRATE). In the last tale, “Flight of the Hydro Chorus”, we find Cinrak a wise and yet still wide-eyed elder whose courage has allowed her to experience the wonders of the land, the sea, and the stars, as well as those of many types of love and friendship. Throughout, Fitzwater interweaves themes regarding found families, being true to oneself, and the interconnectedness—and thus interdependence—of all life.
Vivid imagery, brisk pacing, and jolly humor make The Voyages a quick and enjoyable read, although readers may linger on the imagery and metaphors that make Cinrak’s world breathe with magic. We are thrust into this world in “Young Cinrak,” as she eagerly scans the harbor:
Teetering atop the orphanage’s great oak, the capybara instinctively turned her broad snout towards the silver sliver of harbour glimpsed through the straight-backed buildings of Ratholme. The oak tried to be as tall and graceful as possible for its charge, revelling at being a stand in for a pirate ship.
Cinrak shaded her eyes like she’d seen captains do. Dolphins? Wrong. An oncoming storm? No. The steady, warm nor’east wind had no intention of giving up its turn to its siblings.
Ah! There! Cutting around the headlands.
“Ship ahoy!” whisper-cried Cinrak to her ‘crew’ of oak leaves, who all shivered with anticipation.
This is the tale of a child who feels the world is both animated by and responsive to her mental and emotional states. Although this perspective changes throughout the collection in response to her growing maturity and understanding, Cinrak never loses the sense that the world is responsive and alive. The cumulative effect is that it is impossible to view this world as one of cold, dead objects that we do things to. Rather, through Cinrak’s joyful co-play, we are always moving and acting with this world, refreshingly aware of our interconnectedness and interdependence with its agency, so that we may, as the narrator remarks, “revel in the beautiful and terrifying and intricate change that [i]s life.”
Cinrak’s union activities—along with the related activities of negotiation and navigation—further develop the theme of interconnectedness. It’s one thing to recognize the interconnectedness of the world and one’s desire to live freely and bravely in a wondrous plenitude of possibilities. It’s another to learn how to interact with that diversity respectfully, often on a case-by-case basis and with the need for compromise. IRATE, the pirate’s union, is a found family built upon respect and affinity that demands its members learn the art of navigating differences through talk and trade, i.e., delicate negotiations and reciprocal exchanges. Here, our capybara heroine shines: as Fitzwater notes, the gregarious capybara is known in the real world for its “respect for other species” as well as its “chill.”
But even the chill and boundary-respecting capybara can stand up for themselves. Even as the collection was winning awards, a herd of (irate?) capybara stormed a gated community in Argentina, reclaiming a wetland area that was their natural habitat. Hailed by their human supporters as “the rodent vanguard of the class struggle” according to The Guardian, these stubborn “Peronist” carpinchos (as they are called in Argentina) have inspired debate regarding inequality, the environment, and justice among their wonder-struck human admirers, as well as a good helping of humor and inter-species solidarity.
Cinrak, too, is no pushover. She’s a capybara pirate with salt. The life-giving spice seasons everything in Cinrak’s world—the sea, the air, the blood, and—importantly–the unruly pirate spirit. Dissolved into everything, durable and ever-present, salt represents the stubborn part of oneself that burns for recognition, that resists invisibility and erasure. It is the impetus for the voyage of self-discovery, as well as the taste of pleasure, magic, and joy.
And it should be stressed that joy, in particular, is an integral theme as well as an intended effect of these tales—and one with political implications. Writing in 2020, Fitzwater’s introduction declares that “joy is political” and that The Voyages is “serious about its joy” at a time when the media shows us “[s]hootings, attacks, threats, abuse, aggressions macro and micro, bills and hate groups chipping away at LQBTQIA and reproductive rights and bodily autonomy…” This information barrage “targets your empathy centre and punishes joy” and is supposed to be “Too Much.” In such moments, the irrepressible Cinrak “put[s] her best paw forward” to help rejuvenate world-weary souls. Let The Voyages of Cinrak do the same for you.
Jennifer Jodell is a graduate student in the English Department at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Although once a carefree SFF blogger and gamer, she currently spends most of her time working on a dissertation concerning representations of affect and emotion in early science fiction.
This review was commissioned by editor Jake Casella Brookins in July 2021. The author and editor had no previous relationship. ARB did not arrange a review copy.