Bloody Jack, by L.A. Meyer (Harcourt, 2004)

It’s 1802.  You’re a thirteen-year-old female orphan living with a gang in London, and you make your living as a beggar and thief.  There’s no way out, no hope of improving the situation, and every chance that you’ll be dead or sold to people with unhealthy desires before the year is out.  Then things get worse.  What do you do?  Well, if you’re Mary “Jacky” Faber, you disguise yourself as a boy and sign on as a ship’s boy abord HMS Dolphin, where at least they’ll feed you and show you the world.  And that’s the start of the legend of Bloody Jacky.

Over the next few years, Jacky dodges discovery, hits puberty, fights pirates, and indeed sees exotic ports of call.  She makes lifelong friends, learns valuable lessons, and falls in love (albeit very discreetly) with a fellow ship’s boy.  It’s one of the best (if most dangerous) times of her life, even if “he” has to dodge sailors with an eye for young flesh now and again… It’s a shame all good things must come to an end, even where Jacky Faber is concerned.  But that, that’s another story to be told.

Bloody Jack is an excellent beginning to a superb series of adventure, derring-do, and high seas action.  Starring the irrepressible Jacky Faber, a heroine with a knack for surviving by the skin of her teeth, it kicks into high gear as soon as she’s undercover and onboard the Dolphin.  It’s told in a rather stream-of-conscious manner from Jacky’s viewpoint, which did take some getting used to, but this method does have the benefit of really immersing you in the story.  I couldn’t stop reading once things were underway.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Bloody Jack, enough that I rushed out to grab the rest of the series to date.  Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, both due to the unusual style in which it’s written, and because it contains some scenes younger readers might find uncomfortable. (Nothing graphic, but see above, re: sailor with desire for young men…)  This book is, however, likely to appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce’s Lioness Quartet, or Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen, for example.  Jacky Faber’s a memorable heroine, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing more of her.

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