With the plague running rampant in London in 1797, Mary’s parents and sister are soon counted among the dead. Left alone and penniless, the eight-year-old is taken in by a gang of orphans and learns survival skills. However, when their leader is killed, Mary decides to try her luck elsewhere. She strips the dead body, cuts her hair, renames herself Jack Faber, and is soon employed as a ship’s boy on the HMS Dolphin. When the vessel sees its first skirmish with a pirate ship, her bravery saves her friend Jaimy and earns her the nickname “Bloody Jack.” Told by Mary/Jack in an uneven dialect that sometimes doesn’t ring true, the story weaves details of life aboard the Dolphin. Readers see how she changes her disguise based on her own physical changes and handles the “call of nature,” her first experiences with maturation, and the dangers to boys from unscrupulous crew members. The protagonist’s vocabulary, her appearance and demeanor, and her desire to be one of the boys and do everything they do without complaint complete the deception. This story also shows a welcome slant to this genre with an honorable, albeit strict Captain, and ship’s mates who are willing and able teachers. If readers are looking for a rousing, swashbuckling tale of pirates and adventures on the high seas, this title falls short. However, it is a good story of a brave ship’s “boy” with natural leadership abilities and a sense of fair play and humanity.
Synopsis Courtesy of amazon.com
Bloody Jack has been a book I’ve intended to read for several years, having seen it on bookstore shelves, noticed it, read the back cover and inside flap several times…and every time I put it back on the shelf with the intention of reading it just after getting through another stack of books. It gave me the feeling it would be a middle-of-the-road young adult book about the sea, but young Mary “Jacky” Faber pleasantly surprised me.
Jacky had a very distinct character voice throughout the novel, sometimes brash and salty like an old sailor, other times fearful to the officers or cheeky to the other ship’s boys. Even the way the author progressed her speech pattern from the uneducated cockney in England to the more refined speech she had upon the course of her commission on the Dolphin—was flawless and natural.
There weren’t many epic scenes as usual in nautical/piratical novels, Bloody Jack was able to pique my interest in a wonderful manner. There were areas of great character development and action scenes spaced evenly throughout, and I rather liked her cheekiness at times. Jacky Faber’s goal was only to keep her commission aboard the Dolphin because all she really wanted was food and a place to sleep, and she ended up being a bit of an reluctant hero at the end.
A few parts were a bit muddy, as to the reader Jacky had become almost too male to remember she was a girl only disguised as a boy. The near-rape scene with a crewman in its execution lost sight that she wasn’t a boy, and made me a little uncomfortable.
That particular scene aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this seafaring tale and look forward to reading the next installment of Bloody Jack’s adventures, The Curse of the Blue Tattoo.