In the Belly of the Bloodhound, by L.A. Meyer (Harcourt, 2006)

Author: L. A. Meyer

The infamous, irrepressible Jacky Faber has been many things in her time: orphan, begger, thief, sailor, officer in the British Navy, schoolgirl, lady, pirate, and entertainer.  However, she’s about to take on an entirely new role: potential slave.

After Jacky returns to the relative safety of the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, there to hide while dealing with a small matter (the British government having put a price on her head for piracy,) she resumes her life as a student, laying low and rebuilding both old friendships and old enmities.  All she wants is a life free of complications, free to be with her beloeved Jaimy and free to start up a little shipping company.  It’s not her fault the entire world seems to be after her.  Mostly.  And just when things seem to be going smoothly, disaster strikes, as Jacky and thirty other of her schoolmates and friends are kidnapped by slavers, and set on a fateful course for Africa.

Now, trapped in the cargo hold of a slaver ship, Jacky has to rally her hapless troops, enlist the aid of her archenemy Clarissa Howe (of the Virginia Howes) and find a way to defeat her vile captors.  Or else it’s goodbye freedom, hello Arab harems.  Can thirty-some teenage girls find the strength needed to survive the harrowing, mind-numbing, spirit-breaking, perilous voyage?  Or will they be lost forever?  Oh, don’t be silly.  They have the one thing those slavers never could have counted upon:  Jacky Faber.  And before she’s done, Jacky will use every trick in her arsenal, find a long-lost ally, and teach every one of those girls how to fight back.  Pity the bad guys.

In the Belly of the Bloodhound is yet another wild adventure in the saga of the girl they call Bloody Jack.  It’s good to know that even when things look their worst, she’s already planning three steps ahead.  In this book, she puts her hard-earned experiences and skills to the test, not only taking on a leadership role, but proving she knows how to share leadership, and how to sublimate old hatreds for the good of the cause.  She’s bold, strong, fearless, and unstoppable, even though she’s a self-professed coward who only acts heroically out of self-defense.  Sure, she has plenty of weak moments, but she knows how to work past them, and that’s what matters.

Sadly, there’s far too many characters floating around this book for them all to shine, though as always, Meyer puts the spotlight on a handful who will undoubtedly turn up with more prominence later in the series.  Of note, though, is the attention given to Clarissa, who may be Jacky’s enemy, but she’s also a well-rounded, complex creature in her own right, who really comes to life here.

Once again, Jacky’s life is riddled with coincidental meetings, well-timed appearances and disappearances, and improbable events.  However, it’s a strength of the series that these things are acceptable under the circumstances.  Jacky really does lead a charmed (or “interesting”) life… and since she’s the one telling the story, perhaps she’s embellishing as she goes along.  I can’t much fault the story for these.

I will note that when Jacky tells several stories of her life as a beggar on the streets, the book begins to feel a little padded.  It’s by no means a short book, and the stories, which have little to add to the current storyline (that I could tell) only extend the overall length.  Though I was by no means upset to dwell a little longer in Jacky’s world, they seemed oddly timed.

I must commend Meyer for his attention to details; nothing seems left out when it comes to an attempt at accuracy given the historical and nautical settings involved, right down to various societal prejudices and viewpoints.  We’re definitely not given a sanitized version of reality, and the dangers our heroines undergo -are- fairly harrowing.

I’ve thoroughly loved this series, and it was a definite shame to put down this book and know I won’t see any more of Jacky Faber for some time to come.  Especially since this one ends on something of a cliffhanger, one I can’t wait to see resolved.  This isn’t just good stuff, it’s among the best as far as YA adventure goes, and I highly recommend it.

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