I have been continuing through the audio adventures of Jacky Faber by L. A. Meyer, read by Katherine Kellgren, and am now halfway through the series. They continue enormous fun, and are great to listen to one after another, as they tend to directly follow each other chronologically–though I’ve decided to take a break for a while after the fifth one.
I reviewed the first audiobook here, Bloody Jack, about how a London street urchin disguises herself as a boy to join a Royal Navy ship, hoping to “better her condition.” Along the way, she meets close comrades and gains the nickname “Bloody Jack”–which, as Jacky likes to say, is not her fault. Mostly.
I’ll try to refrain from spoilers, but I will tell you that her deception is found out by the end of the book. Book Two, Curse of the Blue Tattoo, picks up with Jacky being dropped off in Boston at The Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, where the formidable Mistress Pimm will try–with mixed success–to turn her into a proper lady. We get to meet two of my favorite characters in this volume. First, Amy Trevelyne, Jacky’s dearest friend, who comes out of her shell under Jacky’s influence, and who tries–with mixed success!–to rein in Jacky’s wilder impulses. Second, we meet Jacky’s nemesis, Miss Clarissa Worthington Howe (of the Virginia Howes), who is very much the fine lady–but can hold her in a fight too, with words or claws. This book also has an element of mystery to it, as Jacky gets involved exploring the death of a serving girl, and the very creepy minister who lives next door.
Book Three, Under the Jolly Roger, sees Jacky at sea again. Through a series of mishaps, she ends up on the H.M.S. Wolverine, commanded by mad Captain Blodgett. Jacky’s gender is discovered and her virtue is sorely threatened, but as usual she carries on with aplomb. This book is really two plots, and Part Two sees Jacky setting up as a privateer–and fighting at the Battle of Trafalgar in the climax. I remember when I read this one the first time, I had to stop reading it before I went to bed. Too exciting!
We meet another favorite character here, Higgins, Jacky’s ever faithful man servant. I can’t tell you how delighted I was listening when Higgins first turned up! It’s been a long time and I’d forgotten exactly how he got into the story. Higgins is a prim and proper gentleman’s gentleman, who nevertheless has a taste for adventure. He faithfully follows Jacky through her madcap adventures, always ready to offer a wise word, a tut of disapproval, a cup of tea or a hot bath. Just to clarify here, it becomes quickly apparent (though never said in so many words) that Higgins is gay, which makes him one of the few men Jacky doesn’t flirt with.
Book Four, In the Belly of the Bloodhound, sends Jacky back to Boston and school, trying to lay low and avoid the British intelligence officers pursuing her for piracy. The plan to stay out of trouble goes awry when Jacky and the girls of the school are abducted by slavers, and carried towards South Africa aboard the Bloodhound. This is my favorite book in the series to date. Jacky is certainly not going to take slavery lying down, and she martials the girls into a fighting force. I love the girls of The Lawson Peabody School, and I love watching them grow ever stronger and more confident. We get a lot of Clarissa, as well as little Rebecca Adams (granddaughter of John Adams) and Dolly Fraser–who later marries Mr. Madison. Along with getting a wonderful cast of brave girls in this book, Jacky doesn’t meet any pretty boys–meaning for once she has to curtail her sparking.
Jacky lights out West in Book Five, Mississippi Jack, commanding a showboat down the river along with Higgins and a host of familiar and new characters. Jacky meets Native Americans (including this unnamed Indian woman who went west with that expedition…) and the delightful, hilarious, roaring river man Mike Fink.
As I think about my plot summaries, I realize I’ve left off a major character–Mr. Jaimy Fletcher, who is doomed throughout this series to chase along always a few steps behind Jacky, his fiancee. Meyer often intersperses Jacky’s adventures with letters (literal or mental) from Jaimy to Jacky, updating what’s occurring with him. And here I come to my biggest criticism of the series. On my first read-through, I recall being pretty neutral about Jaimy. On this second pass, I have to say I think he’s all wrong for her. They meet as children in the first book and are faithful to each other (mostly) for nine subsequent books…but honestly, I’m not convinced of their relationship’s validity because they’re so rarely actually together.
A bigger problem–Jaimy keeps wanting Jacky to settle down. And that’s just not who she is. I don’t have a problem with Higgins or Amy, who clearly value Jacky for her high spirits and just wish she would restrain some of her more dangerous impulses. Jaimy wants to marry Jacky and install her in a cottage somewhere while he goes to sea and she…I don’t know, raises babies? I don’t believe Jaimy loves Jacky for who she is; he’s imagined the girl he thinks he wants, and for some inexplicable reason has given her Jacky’s face. I’d like to believe Meyer will eventually break the two of them up…but I just don’t see it happening. So I have to hope Jaimy will mature a bit. As of book ten, he’s still working on it.
As I mentioned, I’ve been listening to the audiobooks on this pass through–the books are great as paper novels, and they’re also wonderful on audio, thanks to the delightful talents of Katherine Kellgren. She gives us Jacky’s Cockney accent, brings believability to her melodrama, and makes me like Jacky’s singing much more than I ever did on paper. She also gives us excellent voices for a vast cast of characters, with accents from British to American to deep South to Irish to French, with characters who are male, female, young, old–or even bellowing Mike Fink. She even makes different characters sound different while singing. All in all, I’m a big fan.
But I’m a fan of the whole series. On paper or audio, I highly recommend following the adventures of Bloody Jack!
Author’s Site: http://www.jackyfaber.com