Thursday, April 23, 2020

Piratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl's Adventure Upon the High Seas by Tanith Lee

I bought this book to put into my Little Free Library, but wondered where it might fit on the range of age-appropriateness—especially because I intended to loan it first to a neighbor teen. The best way to determine this, of course, was to read it myself.

Surprise! It's a great book, and despite the story line, has little gore, with zero vulgarity and profanity. (Unless you're worried about exclamations like "Great shells!" or "Upon my father's coat!")

The cross-dressing teenage girl Artemisia (Art), who sets out to convert her crew of actors into real pirates, is a genuine sweetheart. The acting troupe she carries along in her wake are truly interesting characters themselves, and the young artist she robs at their first encounter, then later kidnaps to the West (or "Blue") Indies and carries onward to the Southern Indian Ocean's "Treasured Isle" (which may be Île Saint-Paul in our world), is an honestly intriguing figure who refuses to fall into the "true love" trope of any ordinary pirate romance.

The setting is global, but it is not the globe we live on. In Art's world, 1820's "Lundon" is the capital of Free Republican England (which ousted its monarch quite a while ago, erasing all hereditary titles and freeing slaves in all its colonies at the same time). The islands of the "Blue" Indies are still pirates' havens. The ocean south of the east "Africayan" coastal island "Mad-Agash Scar" is named "Capricorn Sea." Even the calendar is different; by Art's reckoning, the year in which the story's events occur is "Seventeen-Twelfty."

Some things stay the same, though. As in 1820, in the "Seventeen-Twelfty's," the same once-hereditary elites mostly remain in power, though with different titles. People are free to starve or freeze to death, though no one we meet does so. And a young woman who has the audacity to wear men's clothing and successfully captain a ship is a criminal because of that, regardless of the theft of ships and booty. It's there, though soft-peddled. For a younger reader than I am, I suspect these disturbing ideas will vanish into the tension of the tale.

I would recommend this seriously twisted plot for the reading pleasure of any advanced middle-school reader or young adult of my aquaintance, and many an adult as well. It will appeal to both girls and boys for its story; adults can enjoy the extra layer of twisted geography and history.


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