Friday, April 24, 2009

Below decks

When last we met with Jacky Faber, she was hightailing it away from the Battle of Trafalgar to avoid being re-captured by the British Navy, who have now put a rather hefty price on her head (it's worth more if it's still attached ... still, Jacky's a bit nervous). Yes, it's another installment in the adventures of Bloody Jack: In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being the Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber.

Jacky has made her way back to Boston, where she intends to take refuge from those seeking the bounty on her head at her old school, the Lawson-Peabody School for Young Girls. She fits in again quite nicely, but she's a bit bored. And a bored Jacky is the kind of girl who gets into trouble. But this time, the trouble is not of her making. On a field trip (did they have those for schoolgirls in the early 1800s?) exploring an island in Boston Harbor, Jacky and 31 of her schoolmates are kidnapped onto the Bloodhound. The Bloodhound is a slave ship hoping to turn a profit on both trips across the Atlantic: It plans to sell the girls of the Lawson-Peabody to North African Arabs eager for white girls in their harems. But Jacky has never been one for inaction and -- over the course of the long voyage east -- she organizes the girls into a clever revolt and daring escape.

Yes, it's ridiculous, and no doubt completely anachronous. But it's also quite exciting, and there's a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing how the complex pieces of Jacky's plan -- which include a striptease by Jacky's nemesis, the southern belle Clarissa Worthington Howe -- fall into place.

But the most enjoyment -- as I've said before -- comes from listening to Katherine Kellgren's performance of this lengthy novel. She embodies Jacky, who -- in addition to all her other duties -- becomes a storyteller as she relates her recent history to the girls of the Lawson-Peabody. Well, we always knew she was a storyteller, now her schoolmates do. She cries, yells, sings,flirts, commands, consoles. It's such a complex performance.

Kellgren also does a fine job with a large cast of characters: 31 girls, at least a dozen sailors, plus her beloved Jaimy, some old cronies from her childhood as a Cockney street kid in London, and several worried friends back in Boston. And while I can't say that each and every girl has a distinct voice, Kellgren creates enough difference for the more prominent characters that following dialogue and character development is easy. She creates two terrifying men aboard the Bloodhound: A loud, sadistic captain and the disturbingly quiet and controlled Cinque -- a black man who traffics in people of all races.

And something else that's great: Several of the 13 discs end on just the right note of suspense and excitement. The chapter is over, but it's a cliffhanger. Switch discs ... now! I do like it when a publisher takes enough care to pick a good place to pause.

How long do we have to wait for the next one? There's nothing on the Listen and Live website yet! Well, I suppose I could read it ...

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