Monday, September 2, 2013

The Highwayman

I know that author L.A. Meyer is influenced by the folk songs (and other non-copyrighted music) that play such a prominent role in his stories of Bloody Jack. He claims that long days of listening to his community radio station led to the creation of Jacky Faber.  But in the latest of Jacky's journeys -- The Mark of the Golden Dragon: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Jewel of the East, Vexation of the West, and Pearl of the South China Sea -- it appears that Meyer's strongest influence was the early 20th century poem by Alfred Noyes, "The Highwayman."

Having successfully escaped transportation and indentured servitude in Australia in her last escapade, Jacky finds herself captain of a small fleet of ships (in addition to her own beloved Lorelei Lee, the other ships have two rivals for her affection at their helms -- fiancĂ© Jaimy Fletcher and rakish Joseph Jared) making its way back to England. Simple, happy endings for our heroine are simply not possible: A typhoon sweeps Jacky overboard, leaving Jaimy and her many other friends believing her dead. But, in her ninth novel Jacky has now equaled (and probably surpassed) the number of lives accorded to a cat and she washes up onto a "deserted" island accompanied by Ravi, the young Indian boy she rescued in the last book. Have no fear, Jacky moves on to Life No. 11 (she also survives a tsunami in this book), reunites with the Lorelei Lee and sails for England.

In England, Jacky discovers that Jaimy's grief has caused insanity. Seeking revenge on two of Jacky's tormentors, Flashby and Blifil, Jaimy has turned to highway robbery ... and eventually, murder. Jacky is determined to find him, but "Bess the landlord's daughter" stands in the way.

Jacky is also involved in a convoluted plot to bring treasures from the East to the British Museum hopeful of a pardon for her past crimes. To accomplish this, she masquerades as a mysterious Asian seductress in partnership with another old flame Richard Allen.

Confession time: It might be time to take a break from Jacky. While I admire Meyer for not pandering to modern sensibilities at the same time my modern sensibilities were squirming at the whole fetishizing of Asian women as geisha, china doll, etc. I also was uncomfortable at Jacky's regular (yet inexperienced?) use of her sexual attractiveness to get what she wanted, without -- putting it baldly -- putting out. (I hope) I'm not a prude, but these books are written for teenage girls and some of Jacky's antics seem a little inappropriate.

I believe there are few superlatives left in my vocabulary to define Katherine Kellgren's ongoing immersion into Jacky's character. Suffice it to say that she's up to her usual standard of lively characterization, emotional range, loads of accents (some more disturbing than others ... see above about Asian stereotyping), and singing. Always the singing. It's so very wonderful that L.A. Meyer's researches the obscure and not-so obscure songs of the late 18th and early 19th century and gives them to Jacky to sing. At the very end of this novel, Jacky provides a snippet of an old favorite of mine: "Over the Hills and Far Away." (For a sung version, there's an enjoyable Sean Bean flashback here, but I think this is a more permissions-appropriate version.)

I used the Internet to see how many Jacky books are out there waiting for me to read, and I see that number 11 is about to be published. I took advantage of the opportunity to sneak a peek, and read the first chapter, 'cause I'm wondering if I should maybe eye-read an installment. And there it was -- page 4 -- the first song. I can't eye-read these, they will lose so much without the singing.  Guess I'll keep listening (although I think I will take that break).

Fall is always my favorite season -- new beginnings in the fresh, crisp air (who cares that winter is coming!). I have caught up with my blogging (an infrequent occurrence this year). The book in my ears is a 24-hour whopper and I'm only about 2/3 through! I can kick back for some guilt-free listening.

[This "old print" of "The Highwayman" was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Mark of the Golden Dragon: Being a Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Jewel of the East, Vexation of the West, and Pearl of the South China Sea (Bloody Jack, Book 9) by L.A. Meyer
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Listen and Live Audio, 2011. 10:20

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