Sara Lorimer,
Girl Pirates on the High Seas

(Chronicle, 2002)

I can't help but think that Sara Lorimer first came up with a spiffy title, then wrote the book from there. It's a good, clever title that just adds that extra gleam of innuendo to a topic already rife with potential: lady pirates.

And what a bunch they are, too! The book begins with Sadie the Goat, a fierce, head-buttin' brawler who had an ear bitten off before she took to the Hudson River in the 1860s to terrorize the boats there. From there, Lorimer takes us back 50 or so years to the South China Sea, where the beautiful Cheng I Sao held more than 2,000 junks and over 80,000 pirates under her piratical thumb.

Lorimer dances her way through history and around the world in a fast and furious look at 12 female pirates. The earliest by her reckoning was Alfhild, a 9th-century reiver on the North and Baltic seas. The most recent was the aloof and joyless Lai Choi San, who haunted Pearl River, China, as late as the 1930s.

Some of these women flaunted their gender proudly, while others concealed their sex under a man's clothes. Either way, they proved equal or superior to their peers in many surprising ways.

And there's more, from Grace "Granuaile" O'Malley, who held sway off the Irish coast in the late 16th century, to Mary Read and Anne Bonney, who put their male counterparts to shame in the 18th-century Caribbean -- and who escaped execution by way of timely pregnancies.

Illustrations by Susan Synarski are colorful splashes on the page, helping to make the book equally engaging to young readers and old.

The book also includes some generalities about the pirate life, including food, fashion, flogging and, um, frigging. There's no mistaking that, despite an air of fun in the text, Lorimer doesn't flinch away from the harsher details of a pirate's life.

Booty is not an in-depth reference book on piracy; rather, it's a storm-tossed whirlwind of a look at a dozen exciting examples of a grim trade that proves more gender-neutral than many people believe. Anyone who has ever enjoyed the romantic notion of piracy will want it, as will those who like the idea of women who boldly took their equal rights at the point of a cutlass.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 21 May 2005

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