KINGSTON BY STARLIGHT by Christopher John Farley


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Legendary lady pirate Anne Bonny improbably becomes a feminist heroine in this florid reimagining of her life and crimes, courtesy of Time magazine senior editor Farley (My Favorite War, 1996).

The story begins in County Cork around the turn of the 18th century, where Anne, privileged only child of a prosperous landowner, asserts her independence in sporting competition with other children, unaware that her family’s fortunes are imperiled. Her father’s gambling debts send him to America, and Anne and her “Ma” in later pursuit of him aboard a ship carrying slaves (and dangers), whereupon Anne ends up essentially orphaned and alone in South Carolina, thence—spurred by a conveniently acquired love of seafaring—to the Bahamas, where she dresses as a man and auditions, as it were, for a freebooter’s career. “I am of a sufficient height and with broad enough shoulders, that my secret was never guessed,” she confides, relating her exploits from the perspective of old age. Tavern-hopping, she meets Erroll Flynn–like pirate Calico Jack Rackam, joins his dastardly crew aboard the William, and embarks on the adventure she feels born for (“I never felt my womanhood so intensely as when I became a man of the sea”). Astonishments proliferate, as the William savages Spanish galleons, earning vast riches and the notoriety that brings its “men” to the gallows—saving Anne and a captured seaman, Read (also possessed of a remarkable secret). Well, why not? Our Heroine is a paragon of ethnic and gender sensitivity whose adaptation to the piratical “lifestyle” (her word) is eased by her matchless daring, eloquent familiarity with Shakespeare and the classics, and supremacy at chess (the latter skill impresses Calico Jack and leads to his happy discovery of her more purely biological attributes). Absurdity rules the waves, justice is served and bonny Anne lives on to tell thee.

Ineffably, incoherently, inexplicably inane.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-4000-8245-5
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2005