Bloody Jack

Author: L. A. Meyer

Tired of begging, stealing, and scrounging for enough food to survive on the streets of early nineteenth-century London, Mary Faber decides she’s had enough. So she signs on to the crew of the good ship HMS Dolphin–as a ship’s boy! Her good nature and good luck stand her in good stead–along with a few skills like reading and sewing that she learned before her family died and she was cast onto the streets. Rather, she excels a bit too much, particularly with her own natural fondness for being in the center of things. Such attention is not beneficial when you’re trying to deceive everyone into believing you’re a boy. Still, Mary–who goes by the name of Jacky now–succeeds in keeping her gender a secret, a true challenge in cramped quarters while undergoing puberty. Even harder when also falling in love with someone in those cramped quarters!

Bloody Jack is just what a historical novel ought to be. It provides a good feel for the time period and location, but doesn’t harp on details unnecessarily. Rather, it lets the characters (who are beautiful creations) get on with it and show the setting in the way they live. I love the first-person storytelling, which portrays Jacky’s character strongly; the accent and vocabulary are definitely present but not distracting–and the author even goes to the extent of pointing out that the accent’s stronger when Jacky’s upset and then showing that, but very subtly. Very artfully done. The plot is fairly basic–what would logically happen if a girl disguised herself as a ship’s boy in this time period–but the characters are so beautifully written that they carry this plot far beyond its humble beginnings. Jacky in particular is intriguing in her normalcy: she is cowardly, street-smart but common, lucky but unnecessarily fond of attention, always seeking the smoothest road, yet somehow charming in spite of her faults. I would definitely recommend Bloody Jack to anyone who likes a good historical story, although I would warn that it’s somewhat PG13 in places.

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