Tag Archives: gender fluid

The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara

It is misleading to say that The Unbinding of Mary Reade (please note the extra “e”) is based on historical facts since the author, Miriam McNamara plays fast and loose with the so called “truth”. Yes, Mary Read, Anne Bonnie, and Calico Jack Rackham were pirates together, but the timeline is ignored leading to a misleading narrative. What is true is that the illegitimate Mary Read was brought up disguised as her half brother Mark so as to financially benefit off her “grandmother” with the proceeds of her deceit supporting her mother. Eventually she joined the British Military and fought against the French in the Nine Years War. Mary married, settled in the Netherlands, and ran an inn, but after her husband’s early death she once again took up the role as a man and ended up on a ship traveling to the West Indies which was taken hostage by pirates who she gladly joined. She accepted the governor’s pardon in 1718-19 and became a privateer, basically a pirate for the crown, but the ship mutinied and it was at this point she joined the pirates Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny (who also was disguised as a man). Eventually both their true identities were revealed. Ironically, Anne’s father had unsuccessfully forced Anne to take on a boys identity in her youth to hide the fact she was his illegitimate daughter.

While in the book McNamara portrays the two female pirates as roughly the same age, in fact, Mary Read was thirteen to fifteen years older. Of interest is the gender fluid nature of both these female buccaneers who seemed to take pleasure from men but were rumored to have an intimate relationship with each other as well, switching back and forth between the sexes as the situation dictated. That they were fierce fighters is not in doubt, shown by their efforts to hold off the invaders intent on taking them captive, although they were eventually outnumbered and captured because the male crew were too drunk to fight. Both ladies were “with child” so spared the fate of their male counterparts who were hanged for high treason. While Mary is believed to have died of child fever in a Jamaican prison (buried April 28, 1721), Anne was luckier, possibly rescued by her influential father, William Cormac, ending up in her birthplace of South Carolina.

As you can see, Mary’s life was actually quite fascinating, but the author somehow found a way to make it mundane. I had to force myself to finish this book, which seemed to drag on and on.

Back and forth between 1704, 1707, 1717, and 1719 alternating between the locales of London and the Caribbean, the backstory comes too late, leaving the reader confused as to exactly what is happening. Ultimately, the intriguing details of the lives of these two rebellious woman are not used to their best advantage. There was too much tell, not enough show, with the author too often describing the events rather than putting the characters in the midst of the action.

However, this book’s one saving grace is bringing Mary and Anne to our attention and I suggest a look at A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, published in 1724, which provides the basis of many of the myths surrounding this fascinating period on the high seas.

Two stars and a thank you though both Netgalley and Edelweiss for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

In the past, the mass media has presented only one type of norm, the perfect family situation with a husband, wife, and two to three somewhat “ordinary” children. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t match this utopia, so those on the “outside” are made to feel inconsequential for not meeting this ideal. Recently there has been a turnabout with books, television, movies, and even the news, celebrating a diversity of practices. With this change has come an acknowledgement of the LGBTQ community who continue to fight for a positive affirmation. While we aren’t quite there yet, it’s important that literature for children reflect this dynamic so the next generation grows up with a receptive perception of these “alternative” lifestyles which are actually quite common place. Even more important is to develop a prevailing existence of role models who reflect the reader’s intrinsic sensibilities so that they, too, can proudly hold their heads high without hiding their innate psyches.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is just such a book. Taking place in Paris where the first mega department store is going to open, the King and Queen of Brussels are visiting their French cousin with their sixteen year old son, Prince Sebastian. The King is pushing for his son to marry, even at this young age, to secure the future throne. He is even being allowed to choose which of the eligible ladies would suit him best, as compared to his parents’ arranged marriage. Sebastian, however, has a secret which he fears will embarrass his family and any future spouse. He loves fashion, and not just any fashion, but women’s clothing – the more outlandish the better! So when he sees an unusual, but creative style garment at his introductory ball, he sends for the seamstress with an eye for such spectacular design, so she can develop similar avante garde creations for himself to wear.

Frances is excited to design for royalty, even if the fabulous dresses are for the prince. Together they go out into society, he under the persona of Lady Crystallia who becomes a trendsetter in the Paris Fashion World, she as his designer. As Sebastian’s fame grows, so does his worries of being discovered, forcing him to distance himself from Frances despite their budding attraction and close friendship. Although she loves Sebastian for who he is, she also needs to pursue her dreams of becoming a noted couturier.

How this tale is resolved is heartwarming, despite some emotional drama. Will his parents reject a son who does not meet their expectations? Can society accept a cross dresser as royalty? Does Sebastian need to suppress the Lady Crystallia inside or can he continue going out in public showing his authentic self? Can he find true love outside the normal aristocratic channels? And can Frances develop avant garde creations using her genuine talents or must she suppress her inner genius and conform to the norms dictated by the rules of French Fashion?

This is some heavy stuff for a graphic novel, beautifully written and illustrated by Wang who is often able to advance the storyline just with her drawings, letting the expressive faces tell the tale without any words. The color pops, the fashion stuns, the storyline surprises, the ending positively resolves a touchy subject. The cartoon like illustrations lend themselves towards middle school, although older students will also appreciate the gender fluid, transvestite subject matter.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.