The Unbinding of Mary Reade | Review

by Miriam McNamara

Pages: 340

Genre: historical fiction, lgbt




A romantic novel based on the true story of a girl who disguised herself as a boy to sail with the infamous pirates Anne Bonny and Calico Jack—and fell in love with Anne Bonny.

There’s two parallell stories told, the first in 1717 of Mary Reade trying to please her wealthy grandma, dressing up as a boy to have a claim to be her heir. Her childhood friend and love is Nat. In 1719 we meet her again as she’s on a merchant ship, still passing as a boy, until it’s raided by pirates and she manages to join them. She joins after seeing Anne Bonny, the girl of the captain Jack, and becomes fascinated with this female pirate, with a sword and a gun in her hands. Sailing with a crew on the verge of another mutiny, she has to decide if she wants to reunite with Nat, side with the captain or risk everything by going for Anne.


My thoughts

Rating out of five: three stars


This book is a romance, with little action. It has grime and darkness, but it feels like it’s put here obligatory to meet some minimum requirement of being a pirate novel. That said, one thing I found interesting about this book is Anne and Mary returning to Anne’s home, a settlement of religious people where her the husband she escaped from has gathered a lot of influence. Nat – Mary’s childhood crush – also have settled there and the two girls struggle under the mysogynistic principles and ideas of what a woman should be (definitely not a pirate and unmarried). They’re fighting for their independence, realizing they have little to stand up with and that they’re trapped. The hopelessness was so strong in these scenes and broke through the apathy I’d weirdly felt for the characters until that point.

 the characters

Well, I didn’t feel anything for the characters except Anne. Mary first describes her as a independent and fierce girl standing on the deck with a sword and pistol in hand, being the only woman on her crew. She comes soon to realize she’s only there because of Jack’s permission, everyone on the crew apparantly dislikes her for being a woman. Anne doesn’t feel very thought-through as a character, she’s very girly and whiny, it’s like being relatively free on the ship after being beaten by her husband in the town hasn’t changed her at all. There’s no development, she’s uncomplex and flat like many of the other characters. I feel the author adressed this at one point, having Mary notice how Anne was manipulating Jack by being sweet and kissy when Mary was in danger from him.

It’s this weird battle through the book of Anne wanting to be free and independent, not tied to any man, at the same time as she haven’t gathered any skills to make it on her own. Mary is sewing dresses, struggling as the town is considering her an unmarried whore who they need to reform. I so wish Anne had been written as girly, yes, but also a woman of skills and personality. If she was “broken” by her circumstances, make that something that lasts more than a couple paragraphs.


the romance

If you want your sapphic Mary and Anne pirate romance, my opinion is that the chemistry is barely there. Sure, it’s a lot of back and forth, proclaiming their love to each other, but I did not feel the romance. Protectiveness sure, towards the end.


their struggles

I’m seeing reviews that expected Mary to be trans, which I do not think was the intent of the book. She certainly struggles with her identity, trying to figure out what parts of her was acting. If you should expect anything from that part of the book, it is that Mary feels like something in between a woman and a man. Both she and Anne faces so much discrimination and little freedom, in different ways and I think the fact that they didn’t understand each other struggles were one of the more realistic things. One is claiming the other have it easier, until they realize they need to both escape.


The feeling this book gave me: it got an extra star for the fact that it made me shed a tear (it was 3 am and that’s my excuse) when it showed the hopelessness of the situation of Anne and Mary trying to be “correct” women and still being beaten for it. other than that i was bored much of the way through, considering to dnf it several times.


Thanks to the publisher for receiving this copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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