A pirate's life for she Swashbuckling women through the ages

Laura Sook Duncombe

Book - 2020

Pirates are an enduring popular subject, depicted often in songs, stories, and Halloween costumes. Yet the truth about pirate women -- who they were, why they went to sea, and what their lives were really like -- is seldom a part of the conversation. In this Seven Seas history of the world's female buccaneers, A Pirate's Life for She tells the story of 16 women who through the ages sailed alongside -- and sometimes in command of -- their male counterparts. These women came from all walks of life but had one thing in common: a desire for freedom. History has largely ignored these female swashbucklers, until now. Here are their stories, from ancient Norse princess Alfhild to Sayyida al-Hurra of the Barbary corsairs; from Grace O...9;Malley, who terrorized shipping operations around the British Isles during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I; to Cheng I Sao, who commanded a fleet of 1,400 ships off China in the early 19th century. Author Laura Sook Duncombe takes an honest look at these women, acknowledging that they are not easy heroines: they are lawbreakers. A Pirate's Life for She tells their full stories, focusing on the reasons they became pirates. It is possible to admire the courage, determination, and skills these women possessed without endorsing her actions. These are the remarkable stories of women who took control of their own destinies in a world where the odds were against them, empowering young women to reach for their own dreams.

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Chicago, Illinois : Chicago Review Press [2020]
Main Author
Laura Sook Duncombe (author)
Physical Description
216 pages; 23 cm
Ages: 12+
Includes bibliographical references (pages 203-204) and index.
  • Introduction
  • Part 1. Revenge
  • Sayyida al-Hurra
  • Jeanne de Clisson
  • Lagertha
  • Part 2. Escape
  • Alfhild
  • Margaret Jordan
  • Charlotte Badger
  • Mary Read
  • Part 3. Glory
  • Artemisia
  • Teuta
  • Part 4. Adventure
  • Rachel Wall
  • Sadie Farrell
  • Anne Bonny
  • Part 5. Power
  • Lady Mary Killigrew
  • Maria Cobham
  • Grace O'Malley
  • Cheng I Sao
  • Notes
  • Selected bibliography
  • Index.
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 7--10--In each chapter, Duncombe draws from legends and official records to situate a female pirate in history and explore her motivations for setting out on a life of swashbuckling. Ranging from notorious figures like Grace O'Malley and Anne Bonny to lesser-known women like Norse princess Alfhild and Muslim ruler Sayyida al-Hurra, the pirates covered here come from different eras and corners of the world. The author's passion for feminism and women's empowerment underscores each page of this book. She acknowledges the complexity of celebrating women who committed crimes and hurt people yet broke societal barriers to chart their own paths in life. Although the book is packed with details, it lacks some of the back matter that would strengthen its usefulness as an information text. Additionally, the author's suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter include books that seem more geared toward academics than young adults. Though readers seeking a historical overview of female pirates will be drawn in by the wealth of material here, the dry storytelling may not appeal to general readers. VERDICT This informative YA companion to 2017's Pirate Women will resonate with readers whoare already interested in the subject of pirates throughout history.--Lauren Hathaway, University of British Columbia, Va.

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A survey of seldom-heard accounts of female pirates.Organized loosely by motivation for becoming a pirate, each chapter covers a woman buccaneer from ancient times to the late 19th century. Some individuals were rulers who took up piratical navy practices, others began as thieves or sex workers. Readers learn mostly about white women who sailed all over the world, but the profiles include Muslim ruler Sayyida al-Hurra from Granada and Cheng I Sao from China, the most successful pirate (of any gender) of all time. Readers may question whether a single act of piracy makes a couple of the women worthy of the title of "pirate," but the accounts universally make for good stories. Sidebars provide pertinent historical context, such as background on the status of women in medieval Europe and the history of Viking longships. Duncombe (Pirate Women, 2017, etc.) is invested in her topic, stressing how these historical figures who rebelled against the status quo can help modern women feel empowered. She also acknowledges the difficulty of establishing firm historical facts in many cases and often includes contradictory reports, encouraging readers to be open to different interpretations. Illustrations and maps would have greatly enhanced the text. Each chapter ends with further reading, although many of the works cited are too complex for this book's intended audience. A thought-provoking treatise on charting one's destiny without societal constrictions. (notes, selected bibliography) (Nonfiction. 12-16) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.