When I last talked about the Bloody Jack Adventures, the series of historical adventure novels by L.A. Meyer, I had read five of the twelve books. As of this week, I have completed the whole series, and so I’m able to give some general thoughts.
Overall, the Bloody Jack Adventures is a great series, where even the weakest instalments are worth reading. Each book is basically the literary equivalent of comfort food, with adventure, humour, and new situations for the adaptable and irrepressible heroine Jacky Faber to figure out. From India to Burma, from diving for treasure in the Caribbean to being transported to Australia, from modelling in a Spanish art studio to tightrope-walking in a circus, Jacky sees and does it all. I was particularly pleased when, in the sixth book (My Bonny Light Horseman), Meyer finds an excuse to get Jacky involved in Napoleon Bonaparte’s land-based campaigns; sent to France to spy for British intelligence, she ends up joining the Grande Armee while disguised as a cavalry officer, and participates in the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt. History-wise, it’s a bit of a shame that the series ends in 1809, a few years before Britain and the United States ended up going to war. The War of 1812 is foreshadowed a few times in the later books – for example, the Chesapeake-Leopard affair is referenced – and I would have been interested to see how it impacted the lives of the surviving characters, as it surely must have significantly.
However, while I absolutely adored the first five books, the rest of the series didn’t seem to have quite the same magic, and that may have been because the novelty was wearing off rather than any real dip in quality. It’s unfair to say that each book is exactly the same; the plots and the situations are always different, serving as both self-contained stories and chapters in the grander narrative of Jacky’s life. Yet when reviewing each instalment on Goodreads, I eventually found it hard to come up with new things to say as they tended to have the same overall qualities. While the penultimate book, Boston Jacky, has its problems, I liked it for being a story where Jacky is acting on her own initiative rather than doing her best to survive in whatever situation she’s been dropped into by somebody else, as happened in most of the previous instalments.
And certainly, inserted into each story are recurring scenarios that get overly familiar after a while, such as Jacky getting into trouble and being seconds away from death when her friends show up at the last second to save her, or Jacky meeting a dashing young man who falls madly in love with her. Most frustrating of all is the will-they-won’t-they with her central love interest, Jaimy Fletcher; over and over again, they come together, only to be ripped apart by something or other. By the time Boston Jacky rolls around, Jacky and Jaimy are being kept from a happy ending by misunderstandings and troubles that could be solved simply with better communication, a trope I always hate to see in a romantic comedy.
Also, as generally likeable a protagonist as Jacky is, the less admirable sides of her character become rather more glaring in the later books. At a time when you think she should be getting older and wiser, she still fails to learn from past mistakes and gives in to her more wilful and churlish side, though she does at least suffer negative consequences for doing so. And while she never actually sleeps with anyone until the end of the series, she continues to have practically no qualms about kissing, being very affectionate and using the ‘l-word’ with other men besides Jaimy, whom she always maintains is her true love. In the tenth book, Viva Jacquelina, Jacky attracts about five new admirers and really leads a couple of them on; by the time they part ways, the boys in question still have no idea that she’s “promised to another” (though she does have to answer for it with Jaimy himself later on).
The series does fit together very well as one big story; in the last few books, a number of dangling plot threads are returned to, and loose ends are tied up. I don’t know to what extent Meyer planned out the stories, but there is certainly evidence of extensive forethought: for example, a certain item that gets briefly mentioned in the second book ends up playing a vital role in the climax of the final instalment. Said finale, Wild Rover No More – which was published a few months after L.A. Meyer’s death in 2014 – brings Jacky’s adventures to a satisfactory and deeply emotional conclusion. I would have liked a little more detail about what happened afterwards, but the book gives enough strong implications to allow general assumptions to be made about the characters’ futures. And while I was ready for the series to be over by this point, reaching the end of the long voyage and saying goodbye to Jacky still felt bittersweet.
So here is my personal ranking of the Bloody Jack Adventures:
01. Under the Jolly Roger (3)
02. Curse of the Blue Tattoo (2)
03. In the Belly of the Bloodhound (4)
04. Wild Rover No More (12)
05. Bloody Jack (1)
06. Missisippi Jack (5)
07. My Bonny Light Horseman (6)
08. Boston Jacky (11)
09. The Wake of the Lorelei Lee (8)
10. Viva Jacquelina (10)
11. Rapture of the Deep (7)
12. The Mark of the Golden Dragon (9)
I feel this series deserves more attention than it appears to get these days; looking online, the fanbase seems largely inactive, with the last book being published five years ago and the author sadly no longer being with us. If you enjoy historical fiction, and are in the mood for something that’s just plain fun, give this series a try – and check out the audio versions narrated by Katherine Kellgren if you can.