Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Fiction
The subtitle for this book is “a serio-comic novel of Anne Bonny & Mary Read,” and the opening quotation, taken from Charles Ellms’ The Pirates’ Own Book, aptly sums up the adventure upon which the reader is about to embark. (Of course, those who prefer shorter versions should just read the bold-faced words.)
The attention of the reader is now to be directed to the history of two female pirates, a history which is chiefly remarkable from the extraordinary circumstance of the softer sex assuming a character peculiarly distinguished for every vice that can disgrace humanity, and at the same time for the exertion of the most daring, though brutal, courage.
The emphasized words are Goldin’s, but they epitomize the essence of this book, which is written strictly for adults. He stresses the serio-comic aspect in his prologue and clearly warns the reader that some of his tale contains “clear inventions and the obvious anachronisms and the narrative strategies and the jokes and the tongue-in-cheek bits and the twists on clichés and conventions of pirate adventures.” (2) What is remarkable and extraordinary is that he does all this while seamlessly weaving the history into a swashbuckling tale that makes the madcap seem perfectly plausible.
For those unfamiliar with Anne Bonny and Mary Read, these two women stepped into the pages of history when Woodes Rogers ordered their arrest, along with the apprehension of Calico Jack Rackham and the other men who sailed with him. They were tried and convicted, although only the men were hanged. The women were with child, and since the authorities refused to inflict the punishment of their mothers on innocent babes, Anne and Mary got temporary reprieves. Mary died while imprisoned, but Anne simply vanished from historical records. When Captain Charles Johnson included their adventures in A General History of the Murders & Robberies of the Most Notorious Pyrates, he assured these two lady pirates everlasting fame.
It is around the known facts of these ladies that Goldin spins his audacious tale, although he encapsulates a period of three years “into a few hectic weeks.” (4) He also points out that The Legendary Adventures of the Pirate Queens doesn’t include their ultimate fates. (A sequel is forthcoming.) Instead this rendition of their exploits recounts “how the story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read began.”(5-6)
Each chapter begins with a hint of what is to come. It’s reminiscent of how books of earlier periods provided snippets of chapter contents, but Goldin’s are far more concise. For example, chapter one begins with “In which we see some Benefits to Appearances being Deceiving; and see that Love may Arise without Rhyme or Reason.” (7) Those who know Mary’s background will easily figure out that this alludes to Mary. She lives most of her life disguised as a male, but eventually finds herself falling in love with a fellow cavalry officer, which presents any number of problems since he thinks Mary is actually Martin Read.
Goldin is adept at portraying Mary as a man, but never allows the reader to forget she’s female. Anne, however, is always portrayed as a woman, but rarely as a lady even though she was raised as one, who sometimes dons male attire, especially when wielding her blade. When the two first met, it’s a jaw-dropping scene, but Mary takes it in stride and continues toward her goal of destroying the ship. Jack somehow manages to defy our typical concept of a pirate, while actually being one, and Goldin’s deftness in depicting this character’s preference for avoiding conflict of any kind is astounding.
A host of other characters populate this story, but the key ones are Peter Meredith, James Bonny, Woodes Rogers, Benjamin Hornigold, and Charles Vane. Of these, only Peter is fictional, but he’s probably the most endearing. He signs aboard the Dutch ship on which Mary works, and although he’s a total klutz on a ship, he loves the inner workings of clocks; if he can create a chronometer that will allow seafarers to accurately determine longitude, he’ll win a hefty prize. James is Anne’s spineless husband, and readers will take an instant dislike to him, especially in his attempts to make Anne act like his wife instead of Rackham’s mistress. Rogers is the governor, who comes to the Bahamas to convert the pirates into upstanding citizens, rather than criminals. Hornigold is one of the converts, while Vane vows never to turn over a new leaf. Both hunt for Jack and his crew, but for different reasons. Ben seeks to return the wayward Anne to her husband, while Charles seeks vengeance against Jack for stealing away his ship and his captaincy.
Goldin’s wit and wisdom will resonate with readers. He skillfully melds the absurd with the realistic, nautical language with piratical history, to transport you back to the early eighteenth-century Caribbean. At the same time, though, he wields his pen with the expertise of a master swordsman to create a Hollywood-like extravaganza that captivates, entertains, and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. His characters step off the page into your living room, but without endangering your life – unless, of course, you disregard Anne’s warning and call her a pirate. After all, she’s really a gentleman of fortune.
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