DOUBLE REVIEW TIME.
Well, not quite a double review. But I did read two books for the price of one, I suppose.
When I was in junior high (or maybe sixth grade), I came across a wonderful series: the Bloody Jack Adventures by L.A. Meyer. The first book — “Bloody Jack: Being An Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary ‘Jacky’ Faber, Ship’s Boy” — follows Mary, an orphan living on the streets of 18th century London. To get off the streets, Mary becomes a sailor on the HMS Dolphin disguised as Jack. And that’s only the first adventure.
The series has 12 books, and I thought I had only read the first four. So I downloaded “Mississippi Jack” from the library and proceeded to read the first few chapters. Only I had the oddest feeling that I had read it before. With each new chapter, nothing about the plot or characters was new (but that didn’t stop me from falling deep into Jacky’s world again). So after finishing that book last Thursday, I immediately downloaded the sixth book: “My Bonny Light Horseman: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, in Love and War.” This one I was sure I hadn’t read before — and I hadn’t.
Though it’s been about seven years since I read “Mississippi Jack” the first time, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading about Jacky’s adventures. She had gone from a midshipman to a schoolgirl in Boston to being wrongly branded a pirate by the British to being captured by slavers to traveling down the Mississippi River. Quite the variety of adventures, wouldn’t you say? In book six, sixteen-year-old Jacky finds herself captured by a British warship, which is eventually captured by the French (it’s 1806). It’s in a French prison where British agents fake Jacky’s death — right after she’s reunited with Jaimy, her fiancé — and force her to become a spy, working to bring down Napoleon’s reign.
The scenarios Jacky finds herself shouldn’t surprise me anymore. After all, I’m halfway through the series. And I’m tempted to have the next six books in this challenge be the rest of the series.
Of all the books and series I read in my youth, the Bloody Jack Adventures were in my top three. If anything, it’s tied with Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series. Coincidentally, they both feature female protagonists who pretend to be boys in order to do what they want to do. What can I say? I’m a sucker for those storylines.
Jacky Faber is probably one of the best female protagonists in YA literature. Why? Because she has so many facets, so many strengths and weaknesses, so much wit and bravery — in short, she’s written like a person and not just your average manic pixie dream girl Mary Sue. Because I hadn’t read or thought much about Jacky Faber in past few years, I’d forgotten how amazing she was.
As I was reading both “Mississippi Jack” and “My Bonny Light Horseman,” I wondered if Meyer had given her too many talents. She’s a naval expert (still listed as an active naval lieutenant), plays the fiddle/violin and sings, paints/sketches beautifully, fluent in French and card shark. In “My Bonny Light Horseman,” she learns enough of ballet to become a dancer in Paris for her first spy assignment. There are so many things she can do and sometimes it feels like Jacky knows everything and can’t do anything wrong. But most of these talents she picked up in order to survive. Hell, if I had to go through what she went through, I’d probably be doing my best to amass as many of those talents as possible.
She is also constantly questioning the status quo and societal rules of the time. There’s always a moment every few chapters where Jacky says, “Men, I swear.”
I am completely covered in my nightdress and mobcap. Is it the sight of my ankles and bare feet on the floor that makes him blush and stammer so? Men, I swear. (64)
In “Mississippi Jack,” she rightfully takes stance against slavery. She rescues Solomon, who is swimming across the river to escape, and ensures his freedom once they return to Boston at the end of the book. She is hesitant to let Yancy aboard the ship, afraid he might be a slaver.
Throughout each of the books, there are bits of wisdom and bits of narrative that make you stop and think, Aren’t I reading a YA book?. Here are a couple examples from “My Bonny Light Horseman”:
The next day I’m feeling a bit more cheery. We all feel better in the morning, don’t we? The dreads that come in the night are generally chased away by the rising sun, and, by and large, we get on with things the next day, come what may. (207)
‘You are right. The dead are dead and they do not care.’ [Randall Trevelyne] stands still for a while, his pistol pointed at the ground. ‘You know, Jacky, when I was at Napoléon’s headquarters today, I learned that we lost five thousand men and the Prussians lost twenty-five thousand. Thirty thousand men … think of that … thirty thousand … (408-409)
In all of the books, Meyer does a wonderful job of portraying historical events alongside Jacky’s adventures. In “Mississippi Jack,” Crow Jane, Jacky’s cook aboard the Belle of the Golden West, meets up with her niece, who is heavily hinted at being Sacajawea. In “My Bonny Light Horseman,” Jacky delivers messages between Napoleon and Joachim Murat. At one point, she rides in Napoleon’s carriage after the battle of Jena-Auerstedt and he awards her with the first Legion of Honor medal for (unintentionally) leading the charge against the Prussians.
History? Adventure? Well-written female protagonist? It’s the recipe for the perfect YA book, in my mind. Also, the love story between Jacky and Jaimy — WILL THEY JUST GET TOGETHER ALREADY? Quit sending them on separate adventures across the world, Meyer.
Oh man. It’s going to be a struggle not to read the rest of the series before this year is over.