How’s life treating you these days? I know, I have been pretty inconsistent with my blogging and I am afraid this will continue until I settle in properly. A lot has changed in these 8 months and in the coming months, I hope to see some good stuff happening. 🙂
Don’t forget to wear your mask and wash your hands properly. The pandemic is still here, let’s not treat the virus casually. Stay safe and keep your loved ones safe.
Anyways, so just before my Semester exams started, I had the opportunity to read this amazing historical fiction titled, Wayward Voyage written by Anna Holmes. Guess what? It’s set in the Golden Age of Piracy and has a kickass female pirate! And, if you’re still hung up on Captain Jack Sparrow, let me introduce you to Calico Jack, the charismatic former pirate and Anne’s love interest in the book. You all are in for a treat!
Before I talk about the story and characters, here’s the blurb of the book:
Anne is a headstrong young girl growing up in the frontier colony of Carolina in the early eighteenth century. With the death of her mother, and others she holds dear, Anne discovers that life is uncertain, so best live it to the full. She rejects the confines of a conventional society and runs away to sea, finding herself in the Bahamas, which has become a nest for pirates plaguing the West Indies.
Increasingly dissatisfied with her life, Anne meets charismatic former pirate, John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, and persuades him to take up pirating again, so she won’t be left on shore. Wayward Voyage follows Anne from child to young adult. Hers is a coming of age story, more brutal than many. Her narrative is interwoven with others: William Cormac, her father, seeking a new life in Carolina; mariners turned pirates, Calico Jack and Mary Read, seeking to live beyond the reaches of the law; Woodes Rogers, Governor in The Bahamas, seeking to create order and uphold the values of Empire.
The Golden Age of Piracy is a period when frontiers were being explored and boundaries pushed. Wayward Voyage creates a vivid and gritty picture of colonial life in the Americas and at sea.
I haven’t had the chance to read pirate stories that much which is why my knowledge about the whole ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ was nonexistent. But to do justice to Anna’s writing and have a better understanding on Wayward Voyage, I decided to dive a little into the history of Anne Bony, Calico Jack and Mary Read.
After a quick look at the World History Encyclopedia, I learnt that Anne Bonny was one of the only two female pirates (another being Mary Read) ever known to exist in the Golden Age of Piracy. While exact information is not available, she is believed to have been born somewhere between 1690-1700 in Ireland. When Anne was young, her mother would often dress her as a boy. Later after her mother’s death and running the household for a few years, she ran away and married James Bonny. But as an adventurer at heart, Anne couldn’t just settle down into a married life. Soon, she began the life of a pirate and operated in the Carribean in mid 1700s. Anne is known for her crossdressing (apart from her pirate skills, of course) where she dressed as a man to fight in the battle against the authorities. Although her life as a pirate was pretty shortlived, she disregarded the social norms of her generation and became one of the most courageous female pirates of history.
The main female lead in Wayward Voyage, Anne is inspired by Anne Bonny and it felt like I was reading an extension of Bonny’s life itself. Anna has done such a great job at crafting a character that is a split image of Anne Bonny herself, right down to the timeline of the events and her fellow pirates! (which I believe was the author’s intention) I could tell that Anna’s sailing experience, her visit to South Carolina, and of course tremendous research required to write the book helped her flesh out the characters so well.
As someone who was new to learn about the Golden Age of Piracy, Wayward Voyage was an insightful, though at times a little too detailed, journey of Anne in her exploration of a life of piracy along the Bahamas. Given the characters and the actual persons who existed in the historical timeline of Bonny’s life in the eighteenth century, I couldn’t treat the book entirely as fiction.
Just like the real Anne Bonny, our female lead, Anne of this book, exhibits a similar personality. She is fearless, headstrong, and often times reckless for her own good. But one thing was certain, Anne wouldn’t go down without a fight, even when she was captured.
At the beginning of the story, we find a six-year-old Anne on a boat, (a ‘brigantine’ as her father said) with her Pa and Ma. Young Anne is awestruck with the wide sea ahead of them and the sailors managing the boat. Right from this time, we can see her growing interest in the mechanisms of sailing — her curious questions to her Pa an affirmation.
Anne’s first expedition of the sea was marked by a big storm. We find a scared little Anne trying to hold onto her Pa as strongly as she could. The whole storm scene is atmospheric and really vivid. Passengers huddled closer on the deck, people holding tightly on to their coats and jackets, Anne’s Pa telling her to whisper to God, water gushing through the broken hatch and people screaming in fear.
After the storm ended, sadly, two of Anne’s playmates died and Anne couldn’t bear the sight of her friend’s crying parents.
Several people died or had to grapple with the loss of their loved ones or were on the brink of death due to the cold. The storm scene was particularly my favourite in the early chapters of the book and was probably one of the turning points in Anne’s life as well. Even amidst the chaotic boat journey, Anne didn’t lose her playfulness and could be seen scolded by her parents quite a few times! With their destination, Charles Town, in sight, the rest of the passengers finally made it ashore.
With Charles Town comes another vivid set of describtions of the place, it’s people and the English colonies of that time. Anne finds ‘home’ at a plantation along the Ashley River. We get to see alternating point of views between different characters, mainly between Anne, William, Jack Rackham, where we get to see how their lives are progressing in the new place. However, Anne’s life was about to take another turn. One fine morning, Anne woke up to an emptiness of sort, the absence of the comforting smell of the coffee, her Ma calling her for breakfast…all were missing. As she grew closer to her parents’ bedroom, she could hear her Pa weeping. After giving birth to a baby boy, Anne’s mother passed away and following the turn of events, Anne’s life came crashing down on her. This scene again was so vividly written that I had to collect myself for a couple of minutes before continuing with the story.
Anna definitely has a way with words when it comes to such emotional scenes that as a reader, you’re bound to feel what the characters are feeling.
Anne’s life is filled with some of the most depressing and heart-rending incidences but even in vulnerable states, we can see her fighting through all odds and never cowering, even when it comes to killing her assaulter.
Later in the book, we also get to see another characted, Mary (based on Mary Read, another female pirate of her time). Throughout the book, we can see Anne and Mary ditching the conventional ways of living of the eighteenth century, and predominantly exhibiting traits that would not be termed ‘ladylike’. Both are fighters, defying gender norms, each with a sailor’s mouth, never backing down from a fight. Most importantly, neither regretted their life decisions or pondered over what could have been had they lived a normal life of the genteel society.
Anne followed a path that she decided and no matter what the ordeals were, she was never seen lamenting over her choices. Be it good or bad, she accepted what life threw at her without any second thoughts. From whatever little knowledge I gathered by reading up on the legendary Anne Bonny, I can say that the author has done justice in recording her carefree lively spirit and enthusiasm with which she led a life of no regrets.
Though Anne didn’t get to experience her happily-ever-after moment, I could see it coming. The ending is sad, without a doubt, but that is what makes it more believable. But it was also a perfect closure in a way. Anne returning to her life with her newborn, which can be seen as a happy-ending. Till the end, one thing is consistent in Anne’s life — the sea.
Reading Wayward Voyage was like being on an adventure journey myself. I lived through the scenes, felt what the characters were feeling, and even was angry at some of Anne’s choices. All in all, I was truly invested in this exciting voyage.
If you are looking for a great historical adventure, I would recommend giving Wayward Voyage a read. Be warned, it’s quite detailed and is over 400 pages. So you might need your cuppa right beside you!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anna M Holmes is originally from New Zealand and lives in South-West London with her partner. She holds a BA in English, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Journalism and an MA in Dance Studies. She began writing fifteen years ago, has shown work at the Marbella International Film Festival and was joint-winner of Green Stories screenplay competition in 2020. Wayward Voyage is her debut novel.
Anna says, “Anne Bonny and Mary Read displayed ‘Girl Power’ before the term was invented. At a time when women’s lives were so prescribed it is astonishing that Anne, along with Mary, ended up in Jack Rackham’s pirate gang. Their resolve, cross-dressing, and fearlessness have fascinated me for a long time. I threw myself into research delving into official documents at the National Archives; sailed on a tall ship as voyage crew to experience going aloft and working ropes; travelled to South Carolina to visit plantations and museums and imagine myself in Anne’s footsteps. I love world-building and working on Wayward Voyage has given me ample opportunity to do this.”