L.A. Meyer,
Jacky Faber #10: Viva Jacquelina!
(Harcourt, 2012)

I'm not sure L.A. Meyer knows exactly what to do with Jacky Faber.

It was easier, I think, when she was a preadolescent girl posing as a ship's boy in His Majesty's Navy. From London guttersnipe to British naval officer, from pirate to Boston schoolgirl, Jacky has proved to be a fun and appealing character.

But Jacky is getting older now and, while I can understand Meyer's reluctance to marry her off and put a damper on her adventures, he also relies a little too heavily on her flirtatious approach to every good-looking guy she meets. She still protests a certain degree of innocence, but not as zealously as before. Also, while she still claims to love her original flame, Jaimy Fletcher, that character has too much baggage -- from the relatively minor issue of extreme jealousy to the much bigger matter that, when he thought Jacky was dead, he went insane and started killing people -- to be a suitable long-term match.

That said, and with those reservations noted, I enjoyed Viva Jacquelina! -- the 10th novel in the Bloody Jack series -- far more than recent volumes, if not nearly as much as the earliest books.

Jacky is once again in trouble with the British government, and to atone for her many sins she's sent to the camp of General Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, in Portugal to aid in the ongoing struggle against Napoleon. After some rigorous and costly battle scenes, as well as ample smooches with another of her ardent beaus, she's off to Spain to act as a spy in the court of King Joseph, Napoleon's brother, whom he has newly installed on the Spanish throne.

After an encounter with bandits that costs her her escort, she ends up in Madrid and finds a place in the studio of famed painter Francisco Goya, where she of course ends up posing nude (for one of his most famous paintings, too).

There's also some running with the bulls, an unexpected mixup with the Spanish Inquisition, a little flamenco dancing, some gypsies, hallucinogenic mushrooms and more before Jacky fulfills her mission. Jaimy, meanwhile, is off in China, learning martial arts and how to be a Buddhist in order to calm his anger issues. We only have to hear from him rarely, via letters he writes (but apparently never sends) to Jacky. (The less from him, the better.)

Like I said, this book is a lot of fun. It slows down a good bit in the middle -- Meyer gives the action-packed adventures a bit of rest, focusing instead on the more mundane, but still exciting, occurrences in Madrid, from guitar lessons to mixing paints. But Jacky has plenty of occasions to be Jacky, and that's why people read these books in the first place.

Jacky has her problems, and I do worry that Meyer is struggling to figure out what to do with her next -- but I'm still having a good time in her company, so I'll be happy to head with her back to Boston for another adventure. Lead on!

book review by
Tom Knapp

7 December 2013

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