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  Cover Art: Pirate
Pirate Queen: The Legend of Grace O’Malley
By Tony Lee
Illustrated by Sam Hart
Candlewick, 2019, ISBN 978-1-5362-0019-5, US $19.99 / CAN $23.99


Strife is a byword during the time in which Grace O’Malley grows up. As a young girl, England ravages her homeland: ransacking churches, oppressing the people, and taking land from the Irish to give to Englishmen. But the O’Malleys are a proud clan and they are determined to fight for Ireland, which gains them enemies among the English.

Often away on sailing voyages, Grace’s father arranges for her to foster with a neighboring clan, the O’Flahertys. The idea doesn’t sit well with Grace, who would much rather follow in her father’s footsteps than do what is expected of girls. And she’s not about to live with Donal O’Flaherty, a young lad who always mocks her because she is a girl. Unbeknownst to her father, Grace stows away on his ship. Donal intercepts her, but rather than stop her, he gives her a gift in hopes that it will keep her safe. Another who turns a blind eye to her disobedience is Finn, her dad’s most trusted man.

One journey takes them to Scotland where an earl requests their assistance in getting five-year-old Mary Queen of Scots to safety. The English try to stop them – an encounter that brings Grace face-to-face with her future nemesis, a man named Bingham. He slays Finn, but Grace, her father, and the queen escape his clutches. Bingham’s wrath knows no bounds. As Grace matures and gains the moniker “Pirate Queen of Ireland,” he employs other Irishmen to assassinate her father and betray her. Bingham even tries to murder Grace with the help of someone within her own castle, but the murderer’s arrow strikes a man she rescued from a shipwreck. Grace is determined to unearth the traitor and exact revenge. Bingham is equally intent of stopping her no matter what it takes or who he must kill.

Pirate Queen -- inside page

This graphic novel blends legend and fact to recount Grace’s life from her early years to her final days. It begins in 1546 and ends in 1603, the same year in which another famous queen dies. The story deftly portrays the “battle” between Grace and Bingham – a struggle that ultimately forces Grace to risk her own life to meet with Elizabeth I on that queen’s home turf. Also portrayed is the birth of Grace’s son while she is at sea and how she rallies her men during an attack. Here the pirates are English and in league with Bingham, but most historical accounts identify them as Barbary corsairs. The only time in the novel where the author asks readers to suspend belief is in her ability to control the weather.

Both author and illustrator do commendable jobs showing readers that Grace is a woman who looks at the big picture and knows her enemies well. Never once do they portray her as superhuman. Yes, she is successful, but her actions always have consequences, and sometimes those consequences endanger her loved ones. The artwork captures the action and the subdued colors fit the mood of the story. For readers who enjoy graphic novels or who want a quick recap of Grace’s life, Pirate Queen is a good introduction to this woman who dared to defy those who wished to stamp out a culture and whose story is remembered because the bards followed her example to keep her memory alive in spite of her enemies.

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Book Review Copyright ©2020 Cindy Vallar


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