Book review · historical fiction · Young adult

Review: The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara

The Unbinding of Mar32295460y Reade is a historical fiction standalone novel following Mary Reade, a girl who dresses as a boy to become a pirate, before and after she met Anne Bonny, a pirate girl Mary will fall in love with.

I didn’t have any strong feelings about this book. Nothing stood out to me, and the only thing I actually liked about it was the premise.

When I read a book about pirates, I hope to find interesting adventures and people exploring new places, not 300 pages of the main character trying to hide that she’s actually a girl.

This book was 90% homophobia and sexism, and while that’s not necessarily inaccurate, it made for a very boring read. I guess I just don’t like books in which the conflict is “the main character is a queer woman and people didn’t like queer women (or women in general) back then”.

The Unbinding of Mary Reade needs trigger warnings for: homophobia (there is a scene of people being executed for being queer), sexism (a lot of it), abusive relationships (Anne has an abusive husband), transphobia and sexual assault, because crossdressing plotlines always end with a scene of sexual assault (predictable).

For a book about pirates, it had very little action, and the action scenes were boring, but not as much as the chapters set in Mary’s past – I’m here for the pirates, not for her crush on a boy that isn’t going to end up with her anyway, as this is marketed as f/f pirates. The backstory wasn’t useless, but I didn’t need so many chapters of it. I did end up liking Mary and Anne as a couple, but there was a lot of miscommunication up until the last 10%.

When the good part starts – Anne and Mary are finally gay pirates together – the book ends. Because queer women can’t possibly have adventures that aren’t about them being queer women, even when they’re pirates.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that we’re finally getting historical books about queer people, but this is just not the kind of story I’m interested in.

My rating: ★★