Just like the Jessica Darling series, I discovered Pirates! while spending my study hall periods in my high school library. The cover was cool and it was the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean craze, so I picked it up and I loved it. From what I can remember, it was about a teen girl pirate, swashbuckling around. I think at some point she falls in love with a guy and I enjoyed the romance and adventure and girl power. I haven’t read it since then, so I’m extra excited to read this again. I hope it’s as awesomely feminist as it seemed when I was in high school.
Teenage Rating: 5 out of 5 bottles of rum
Nancy Kington, the independent-minded daughter of a merchant, has a problem. Her busybody stepmother is trying to marry her off to whatever pompous, wealthy brute she can find, unaware Nancy has promised herself to her childhood sweetheart, William. Her life topples when her father’s fleet suffers tremendous losses during a storm and her father dies shortly later. Her alcoholic gambler of a brother takes her to their father’s plantation in Jamaica, which Nancy learns she has inherited. Nancy enjoys life on the island, where she has more freedom than she ever did in England. She is able to go exploring and horseback riding around her estate in a level of undress that would never fly at home, and becomes fast friends with Minerva, one of the slaves on the estate.
Jamaica isn’t all crystal blue waters and tropical evenings, however. Nancy abhors the overseer, Duke, who is abusive to the slaves and threatens to be especially cruel to Minerva and her mother Phillis if he sees Nancy treating them kindly. The Brazilian plantation owner, Bartolomeo, invites Nancy and her brother to dinner where she finds out she’s been engaged to Bartolomeo against her will. He gifts her with a ruby necklace and earrings and Nancy asks if she can have time to think about her answer. She is sickened at the thought of marrying a man who’s old enough to be her father and keeps tortured slaves dying along the road to his plantation. She also thinks of William, who she’s promised to wait for until he gets out of the Navy. Nancy’s stresses come to a head when she arrives home to find Duke about to rape Minerva. Nancy shoots and kills Duke, and realizes she can no longer stay at the plantation.
Nancy runs away to a village of maroons with Minerva and Phillis, where they find a safe haven. When rumors make it back from town about fliers offering rewards for the capture of Nancy and her “slave captor”, Nancy and Minerva decide to find a new hiding place. Lucky for them, Captain Broom, a crew member from the ship that brought Nancy to Jamaica, arrives at the village to trade. She learns he’s become a pirate since she last saw him and pleads with him to allow her and Minerva to join his crew. Captain Broom is willing to give the girls a chance, and they quickly win over the crew members as well. Nancy and Minerva quickly learn how to fight, with Nancy having past fencing experience and Minerva being an excellent shot.
Despite acclimating to pirate life, Nancy is still anxious about her situation. She wonders what could happen if she runs into William on the sea since their loyalties would make them enemies. She has also kept the jewels from Bartholomeo despite Phillis’s seer warnings that they will lead Bartholomeo right to the girls. Nancy and Minerva swashbuckler their way up and down the east coast of the Americas, narrowly avoiding Bartolomeo at every turn. Nancy must choose between a life of piracy full of adventure, riches, and safety from Bartholomeo, and an honest life with William that would come with the constant threat of retribution.
As much as I wanted this book to have a strong female main character, it wasn’t meant to be. Phillis and Minerva are the strong female characters in this book and it’s a shame the attention given to them is only glancing. For all we hear about how connected Minerva and Nancy are, we usually only “see” things happen to Minerva and a lot less of Minerva telling us anything. It’s disappointing because as characters of color, it would have been awesome to give Phillis and Minerva more attention. They end up more like accessories to show us how open-minded Nancy is.
Nancy herself isn’t quite the swashbuckler you hope for when reading a book about female pirates. Instead, Minerva’s the one who devotes herself to piracy and adventure while Nancy’s busy worrying about everything. Obviously, Bartholomeo is a serious threat against Nancy, but she really doesn’t seem to ever let it out of her mind for long enough to relish life at sea. Halfway through I was hoping for her capture so she wouldn’t dampen the mood at every port her ship visited. Her romance with William left me questioning why I was so invested in their love story as a teen. We’re supposed to be interested in the romance because they’re childhood sweethearts, but we don’t get to see any convincing affection between them. All we see are their sudden pledges of love for each other and an exchange of rings before they separate. It’s an easy, lackluster set up for what winds up being a rather dry romance.
The villain of the novel, Bartholomeo, is so over-the-top evil he could fit in the same league as Cruella DeVil and Ursula. Everything about his appearance is dark, his sister looks ghoulish, and there are rumors he cavorts with the Devil. Of course, he’s a foil to William and Nancy’s secret engagement and is an awful, disgusting, old brute. The most suspenseful part of the book was when Nancy and crew flee New York after hearing that Bartholomeo is coming after her and they pass by his ship on their way back to the Caribbean. The description of the dark ship slipping by the Jersey Shore was creepy, and I wish we’d had more of that urgency instead of Nancy’s semi-prophetic lame dreams about ships following her.
The premise of Pirates! was promising but was done a disservice by a dull main character with a dull romance.
Adulthood Rating: 3 out of 5 ruby earrings
2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Categories: A Book You Haven’t Read Since High School