The Jacky of the title was born Mary Faber, whose life turned upside down when a pestilence in 1797 left her orphaned and homeless. She turned to the streets, surviving for a few years by begging, brawling and occasionally stealing on the dirty streets of London. But she lost her taste for that life when her best mate was "done for" by a vile city graverobber, and with few options remaining she hacked away her hair, changed her name, lied about her age and secured a post as a ship's boy on HMS Dolphin.
It's not an adventure-a-minute kind of book, nor will you see Jacky single-handedly besting entire pirate crews with her little knife. The book has a stronger sense of reality to it than that; Jacky has adventures, yes, but author L.A. Meyer never makes the mistake of making her superhuman. She makes mistakes, she runs afoul of bad circumstances, she feels fear. The dangers that threaten are very real, and the tone of the book sometimes is very dark. But through it all, she remains a plucky, cheerful girl, bouncing quickly back from misfortune, who loves to eat, dance and feel the wind in her face.
Bloody Jack is a a rollicking good time, a colorful yarn with a lively protagonist and a boatload of action. Once begun, the book is difficult to put down; once completed, it's hard not to leap immediately into the next in the series.
on February 2, 2003
Bloody Jack is, without any doubt, the best kid's book I've read since the last Harry Potter. In fact, it holds its own with Harry. It is told by its heroine - a 12 year old girl named Mary Faber who was abandonned on the streets of early 19th century London when her parents died of fever. She tells how she was taken in by a street gang where she gets tough and street wise for five years. At the start of the book, the gang leader is killed. She figures her chances are better as a boy so she cuts off her hair, changes her name to Jacky, and makes her way to the docks where she talks her way on board a British Navy vessel because she can read.
She is one of six cabin boys - mostly street kids who are thrilled to have a chance to eat regularly. They can't believe their luck to be paid as well. During their three year voyage - a mission to chase down pirates, they learn to climb rigging, work as powder monkeys in sea battles with pirates, do all kinds of work on deck and hope to improve their lot by becoming able-bodied seamen and regular members of the crew.
At the same, Jacky has to figure out how to keep her secret while her breasts are developing and she starts her period. She also develops a serious crush on the oldest of the cabin boys - a quiet lad who is the younger son of a real family.
In the process she has all kinds of adventures. The crew battles pirates. (She gets her nickname from shooting a pirate during a battle.) The boys have to learn to handle the discipline of the British Navy where they are junior to everyone including the 14 year old midshipmen - one of whom is a complete bully. They get shore leave in exotic ports like Jamaica. Their conversations about religion and education as they puzzle out the ways of the world are hilariously funny.
Jacky has to use all her ingenuity to keep her secret and survive on board ship. She is courageous, smart, strong and a natural born leader. And she has a sharp, funny voice of her own that tells the story in the manner of a girl who has learned to express herself from London street talk, ballads, newspapers and cheap novels.
One of the best aspects of the book is its portrayal of an adventurous girl who likes being a girl - not a girl who has always wanted to be a boy. There are too many stories where femininity is a synonym for weakness and the girl prevails by adopting male behavior. Not this one.
Jacky acts like herself and - because everyone THINKS she's a boy, they simply deal with it. She likes to sew and decides to make herself a uniform when she starts growing out of her clothes. Do the officers and crew think she is a weak sissy? Nope. Sailors had to sew. The captain issues her more fabric and gives her the job of outfitting the rest of the cabin boys.
In one of the battles, the ship takes a cannon shot that blasts a hole in the side of the vessel. The whole crew is put to manning the pumps. Jacky simply doesn't have the strength to manage. Is this a problem? Nope. Some boys are smaller than others, so they send her up to the top of the rigging because she is smaller and lighter and can get a better view farther up.
In fact, there is no problem with her being a girl - until they discover she is a girl. This is a subtly political point which Meyer makes over and over again - but without preaching or politics. Instead he has created a brilliant character and put her in a hugely entertaining tale and lets the story speak for itself.
This is a fabulous book. Don't start it late at night. You won't want to put it down until you are finished.
on January 24, 2008
This Audio CD is utterly fantastic!! I cannot rave about it enough. It is so good, that I am sitting here typing a recommendation, something I have never done for all the thousands of books I have purchased here.
I had already read the novel, and two sequels. I love the books, and I love the character of Jacky Faber. Then, I got this audio book for Christmas as I had just gotten a job which required a 45 minute commute each way, so I thought this would help kill the time. Well, I love this story even more now, having heard Katherine Kellgren's wonderful reading. I swear, you'll think it is Jacky herself telling her story. This actress, and that's what she deserves to be called, really made this story come alive. If there are Oscar's for audio book narrator's, I hope she wins one! Do I sound like I'm gushing? Well, I am! Not only is this a wonderfully fun story for any age, but hearing it read by this incredibly talented woman truly takes it to the next level.
on October 10, 2005
I'm not normally a reader of sea stories, though I have read a few. All that technical ship information about mizzens, and fo'c's'les, and spankers, and such caused my eyes to blur and my head to hurt; however, not so in this wonderful novel. I can easily follow her duties around the HMS Dolphin and her simple explanations about the ship's rigging. Jacky is a dear girl and her daily observations about life on land and aboard the HMS Dolphin and her "Deception" are informative, entertaining, and humorous. She's a gutsy young woman who somehow survives the many scrapes and dangerous situations she manages to get herself into. While Jacky is tough on the outside, she is still all girl on the inside, which makes her also tender when she needs to be. She's loyal to her mates and cheerful no matter what. We share in her love of life and cheer her on. We also feel her sadness...as when, after having fallen deeply in love with Jaime, she is separated from him at the end. I'm sure this part brought a tear to many a reader's eye. I'm currently reading book two: CURSE OF THE BLUE TATTOO. It's even more packed with misadventures than the first book. Keep writng Mr. Meyer! I can't get enough of Jacky Faber.
on April 29, 2004
I thought it was a really,really good book, and i have read many. i almost didnt want it to end. Its about an orphan girl who, after the tradjic death of her beloved Chalie, the leader of the gang of orphans she lived with,escapes this hard unforgiving life by disguising herself as a boy to get a spot on the navel ship The Dolphin. There she gets good, constant meals for the first time in her life and forms a close friendship with the other ship's boys. She puts up with the trials of being a ship's boy such as the beatings of an evil middshippman,and the sexual harrassment of another evil shipmate.This is along with the many obsticals she faces to conseal her true identity which include her changing body and her feminity which even (gasp) makes her shipmates suspect her of being queer. But there are many wonederful things about her new life such as Jaimy, the ship's boy she falls in love with, and the thrill of chasing down and fighting pirates. I can't even describe how wonderfull this book really is.i thought at first it would be just another pirate book but i was woderfully wrong.I would recomend it to anyone who loves a good action packed book with a side of heart racing romance. it made me laugh out loud and cry, and any book that can do that is well worth the time.READ IT! It wont let you down.
on November 2, 2004
My son, who is 11, loved this book! He read it in just three days-it is quite a page-turner. I then read it, in two nights, based on his recommendation. I loved it! I will be giving this book to all my nieces and nephews this Christmas, because it handles the issue of growing up, independence, and having adventures in a very exciting and kid-friendly way, without talking down to the reader.
There is a little violence (them being on a ship that chases and engages with pirates) and a little hint of sex (Jacky gets almost molested, plus has a crush on one of the ships boys) but it is all handled with a very light hand. THe danger comes through, but none of it is graphic. I would highly recommend this book to any boy or girl who loves to read interesting tales of adventure.
on August 26, 2005
There are now 3 of the Jacky Faber books. I've read them all, and I've enjoyed every one of them (the 1st and 3rd more than the 2nd).
What I like most about the books, besides the action, is the sheer joy and spunkiness of the main character, Jacky Faber. She gets into scrape after scrape, but always comes out on top. She's impulsive and careless, but wily and resourceful. And though she's definitely a fantasy creation, the naval adventure genre is full of fantasy creations (Horatio Hornblower being the most obvious example). So why not have a female one, for once?
Read these books. You won't regret it!
on October 14, 2004
With all the elements of a good swashbuckling tale - and more - this is a book about coming of age and finding a niche, however unconventional, in the world. Mary "Jacky" Faber is a frightened, hungry little girl on the streets of London, and in desperation signs onto the HMS Dolphin as a ship's boy, where she knows she will at least be fed. She disguises herself as a boy to accomplish this, which has been done quite often in this genre - but the twist is this: she LOOKS like a little boy, and until she hits puberty the deception is quite simple. However, her hormones take over and she must try increasingly harder to keep her gender a secret, or be thrown to the streets again forever. Jacky grows up aboard the ship, learning to work, to stand up for herself, and accidentally falling in love with another ship's boy. The plot is predictable, but all is forgiven: Jacky's narrative is frank, funny, and undeniably wise, and she will entertain you to the very last page.
on February 21, 2013
If you're an adult and like these books, consider reading the Angelique series by Sergeanne Golon. The first ones written with Serge are the best historical fiction and more like grown up versions of 'Jackie'. ANGELIQUE.
I'm now on book 6, obviously I enjoyed these stories but will not be finishing the series. I guess I thought the writer would stop having the heroine walk blithely into situations with child molesters, torturers and rapists. Portions are much fun as I listen to them while I work around the farm and as a young adult book it's well written. But as a preteen book, it's wildly off course.
There are rollicking songs, descriptions of early 1800's schools, ships, the frontier before there was a wild west - endless fun. Jacky has a heart of gold for the underdog, is quite smart and very brave.
However... I really am concerned that people think that these are entirely appropriate for a 12 year old. Even though Jacky manages to "remain a maiden" as they say in the book, her ability to control her own feelings and those of the men around her is blindly naïve. At this point in the series she has had her clothes ripped completely off innumerable times and has snuggled naked with several boys/men. There have been at least attempted three rapes and she has worked in two brothels. She has been beaten and whipped to the point of breaking ribs, passing out and loosening her teeth. (Isn't it wonderful that the broken ribs make her waist smaller. O.o) One government official tortures her by repeatedly burning her thighs with a lit cigar. Call me a prude, but this was written for 12 year old girls? 15 year old heroines should not purposefully get stinking drunk, flirt and tease, pass out and cause young men to fight, duel and be maimed for life.
Not finishing the series because all I can see in my mind is a drunken 15 year old being carried around a party - cell phone photos going viral - and getting raped by two football 'heroes'. But that would be fiction - wouldn't it. Girls read this stuff and think they will be safe doing stupid things around bad people.
Newest edit------ Finally - I just have to say it. I found it creepy that this was written by a middle aged man. Sitting around - writing a young virgin into scenario after scenario - where she is naked, drunk, beaten, bones broken, burned, nearly raped... and she continues to do it again and again. Hey, I like the male half of the species and there are many wonderful guys in the world - but I just found these books too far into 'middle age male fantasizing about beating and nearly raping underage girl' to be appropriate for a 6th grade reader. At this time, still the group to whom they are being marketing.
Earlier review =============== These books are not for pre-teens. A parent should read them first as there are some scarey sexual situations, physical and emotional suffering too. It may give insecure kids nightmares. They seem to be very well written and true to the era. Better historical fiction than some I've seen and may be a good way for the right parent to introduce inappropriate behaviour from people in authority (it does happen, how do you recognize it and handle it). It should also foster more empathy for kids who live in challenging circumstances.
on January 20, 2006
This is definitely a book for the younger reader, but adults will find much here to capture their interest, as well.
Mary, orphaned at a young age, survives on the streets of eighteenth century Britain with other orphans. Until the death of her friend (her gang's boss and her protector) sends her looking for another life. She's always dreamed of sailing, so that's what she sets out to do. Reading being a rare skill for the lower classes in that time, her ability gains her a place as a ship's boy on The Dolphin. So Mary becomes "Jack," and throws herself into the part.
Life for a boy aboard a British ship is fairly well described in this book. Both the good and the bad, and the truly frightening. Seeing it from a starving orphan's point of view is much different from the viewpoints of the more privileged class we're used to. What most of us would consider barely edible, to Jack it's a feast. Her quarters are little better than rags for bedding on a hard floor, but that's a palace in comparison to sleeping in the gutters or under a bridge. She has three squares a day and a dry place to sleep; it's a better life than she ever would have had had she stayed on land.
Jack finds her niche on The Dolphin, "mothering" the rest of the ship's boys (even if they'd never call it that) and soaking up all the knowledge she can from Mr. Tilden the teacher and her fellow sailors.
That's not to say that all is smooth sailing (pardon the pun). Keeping up what she calls "The Deception" gets harder as the months pass and she becomes more and more obviously a girl. To her credit, though, she's realistic about it and knows that she can't keep up the ruse forever. She just wants it to hold long enough to reach a good port where she can make her way on her own.
There are other dangers, though, even for a boy. The ship's boys are the lowest of the low and can be beaten by nearly anyone. There's always a bully around willing to take advantage of that fact, and Jack has to be wary of Midshipman Bliffil. At the same time, she has to try and keep clear of another, even worse threat. It's not a beating that Sloat is interested in inflicting on her, and protecting herself from that becomes more and more difficult.
It wasn't an easy world at all for an orphan back then, especially a girl. Jack takes the only options open to her for survival and makes the best she can with them. Fortunately luck is on her side more often than not and she does have grand adventures, along with sobering moments of harsh reality and gut wrenching danger.
Younger readers will probably enjoy the fast, easy pace of the book, even with the deliberately archaic style and language. Older readers might find the writing a bit too easy, but it's obvious that Mr. Meyer took inspiration from many classics in naval literature and that should appeal to fans of the genre. There's plenty of action to suit all ages and the suspense is well written.
I'd give this four stars but for the ending. It's obviously concluded with the younger reader in mind, a happy ending and all. Mr. Meyer was refreshingly blunt in his descriptions of life on the streets and what could happen to a young boy on a ship. Not so blunt that it would traumatize younger readers, but enough to give them an idea of what it was like, and enough to satisfy most adult readers. But he ends up pulling his punches at the end and older readers will likely find it unrealistic. But it does provide a nice, safe conclusion that younger readers will feel much more comfortable with, and that's the age this is geared towards to begin with.