L.A. Meyer

Books: Children | Middle Grade

Bloody Jack (2002)

Bloody Jack (2002)

Bloody JackAfter Mary Faber loses her family to the plague, she becomes one of the many orphans roaming the streets of London, part of a gang that keeps her safe. And with that she's mostly comfortable and happy until the leader of her gang is killed. After that she decides that she's going to follow her dream and go to sea, and so becomes a ship's boy on the HMS Dolphin.

Okay, although there are pirates in this book, but they don't play a large part in the story. Think more along the lines of Master and Commander, only told from the point of view of a ship's boy. Who happens to actually be a girl. And eventually starts to have a difficult time keeping up The Deception.

Mary--who calls herself Jacky when she takes on the life of a boy--is a very interesting heroine. She's not precisely a tomboy, although she's pretending to be a boy. She doesn't do things as well as the boys, and doesn't really wish to be a boy, as much as she wants the freedom to do as she pleases, and to be safe from Muck, the man who takes the bodies of those he finds on the streets to the doctors who'll pay good money for the ability to perform an autopsy.

Once she is safe on the ship, her dreams are of growing up and eventually living as a female, although the freedom she envisions is quite different from the reality afforded women at that time. As Jacky's story is continued, it will be interesting to see the clash between her dreams of her life and the reality of the life of women in the early 1800s.

One bit I found particularly amusing was Jacky going to a prostitute to learn not just the facts of life, but basic female biology, which she never had a chance to learn on the streets, and certainly wouldn't have learned about on board the ship.

Another favorite bit was a bit of dialog between the ship's boys about Jesus and Heaven:

"No, Jesus ain't the King of Heaven," counters Davy. "His dad's the King of Heaven and there'd surely be Hell to pay if Jesus come to dinner all covered wi' tattoos. 'Specially with 'I loves you, Mary Magdalen' all over His Sainted Belly."

"I do think His mother might object," says Jaimy, with a straight face.

"Don't yet twits reckon," says Tink, getting testy, "that Jesus could take 'em off as easy as He puts 'em on. 'E puts 'em on when He's having a few pints wi' His mates, and He takes 'em off when he sits down to dinner wi' His mum and dad! Don't ye see?"

"Jesus has a few pints wi' His mates?" asks I.

"Of course he 'E does," says Tink. "What' the use o' goin' to heaven if you can't 'ave a few pints wi' yer mates? If it were otherwise, nobody's go."

What would be the use of heaven, at that?

I have to say, however, that I may have enjoyed the first part of the book--her life in London before going to see--as much or more as the sailing bits.

Rooster Charlie allows as how today he's goin' to see Dr. Graves himself, the bloke what sends Muck around to pick up dead orphans for the di-seck-shun and for the good of science and all to see if Charlie his ownself can get paid for his body before he goes croakers so's he can have the pleasure of it himself, like.

Although there aren't a lot of fights with pirates, there is plenty of villainy--especially the kind found aboard ships at that time, namely abusive officers (in this case a bully of a midshipman) and the kind of men who would take advantage of small boys when they've been lonely out to sea for an extended period of time.

And despite the bully and other persons of ill repute, the ship seemed to be an unusually enlightened place, what with the ship's boys being taught to read and write (as well as their bible verses). Which is all just as well, because rum, buggery, and the lash aren't necessarily the best topics with which to fill a kid's (or young adult's as the case may be) book.

Rating: 7/10