L.A. Meyer,
In the Belly of the Bloodhound
(Harcourt, 2006)

Cracking open a Jacky Faber novel is like taking that first breath of sea air after a long, stuffy car ride. There's a hint of fish and tar on the wind, a fiddle tune in your ear and you can almost feel the deck rocking beneath your feet. It's refreshing, and it fills you with excitement for what's to come.

In the Belly of the Bloodhound is no exception. Our young heroine, Mary "Jacky" Faber, late of London, Boston and the high seas, continues to prove that no dreary episode can stifle her general good cheer and optimism for long. And believe me, that's a quality she'll need in spades in this latest installment from Maine-based author L.A. Meyer.

Jacky, freshly escaped from British naval justice (over a little thing having to do with piracy on the high seas) in the confusion that was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, has made her way back to Boston, where she was last seen fleeing after her questionable involvement in the setting of a really big fire. The Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls was left in ashes, but the unflappable Mistress Pimm has rebuilt from the ground up, and she calmly welcomes Jacky back into the fold of high-society ladies-in-the-making. For Jacky, it's a way to hide out in good company while avoiding those seeking the price on her head, but even a quiet sojourn at an elegant school can't keep her contained for long.

An innocent trip with her classmates onto the briny sea leads to their capture and confinement on a slaver bound for North Africa. And, while Jacky has proven herself resourceful in countless grim situations, the other 31 girls in her company are prone to panic at the sight of a broken nail, much less the dank, rat-filled hold of the slaveship.

Fans of Meyer's series so far will delight in the fourth installment. In the Belly of the Bloodhound takes Jacky and other familiar characters into new places, fresh dangers and entirely new limits of excitement. Whether faced with a cat-o'-nine-tails or freshly cooked rat, our heroine provides an entertaining read.

The villains are somewhat broadly drawn, as villains so often are -- you can count on the bad guys always being ugly, stupid or just plain vile. Gray areas between good and evil are off the charts. But, so what? Sometimes, we just want villains we can really enjoy hating, and slavers certainly fit the bill.

Some parents of teenage girls might shift uncomfortably at the lengths to which Jacky will go for fresh water, and the racist attitude of one character will certainly push some readers' buttons, but the story is without question appropriate to the time, place and circumstance.

But Bloodhound is, at its root, a fun adventure that young and old readers can share and enjoy. Jacky Faber is an enchanting protagonist, a young girl making her way in the man's world that was the early 19th century. She's bold, clever and thoughtful, and her heart is always in the right place. Even her occasional mischiefs are endearing.

Meyer, however, is a cruel man for leaving readers hanging with a cliffhanger that will keep us clawing the walls 'til the next installment. Hurry up, will ye?!

by Tom Knapp
15 July 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.