THE SWEET TRADE by Elizabeth Garrett


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An overheated debut inspired by two real-life bad girls who sailed under the skull and crossbones.

Ann Bonny and Mary Read were breathtakingly beautiful, the author maintains. In addition, they were brave, bold, resourceful, and able to cut loose with a cutlass, swing a mean belaying pin, or go one on one with brutes twice their size, buccaneers extraordinaire. In Garrett's telling, Ann, the headstrong daughter of a well-to-do southern planter, comes to "the sweet trade" as the result of a bitter quarrel with her draconian father. She throws in with that miscast miscreant Calico Jack Rackam (also for-real), whose temperament was apparently more suited to free sex than free-booting. Mary arrives at the calling more circuitously. Seeking adventure and a livelihood—and concealing her sex with camouflage clothing—she signs on a merchant ship as an able-bodied sea-person. When the ship is captured and the option offered, Mary, too, chooses piracy, a decision she comes to rue. The women, who obviously have much in common, meet on Jack's sloop, The Pretty Bonny, and are instantly compatible. Both, after all, spend a lot of time in disguise and are markedly superior to the male of the species. In due course, the two commit themselves to each other, though not sexually, since both are flamboyantly hetero, details unstinted. They save each other's lives and become "blood sisters." It's panicky Jack, however, who proves their undoing. As the result of his basic poltroonery, The Pretty Bonny is taken, and all three find themselves in a British Admiralty jail, in chains, awaiting trial. Predictably, Jack cracks. But, resentful and unrelenting, Anne points out: "If you had fought like a man you need not hang like a dog." She herself fares better, while stoic Mary gets a chance to stay in character.

Not much nuance: action heroes in camouflage clothing.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-87518-5
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2001