Goodreads: Magic Marks the Spot
Series: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1
Published: September 10, 2013
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot will hit the spot for readers who love their adventures bold but silly. When High Society girl Hilary Westfield is denied an apprenticeship with the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates (VNHLP) for being female, she goes to make her own luck at sea and signs for the crew of a freelance pirate. She brings her best friend for luck, the gargoyle who has always been the protector of the Westfield House and has dreams of being a pirate himself (with a proper hat!). But the villains are not who they seem, and the band of ruffians Hilary and the gargoyle have joined may not be the scariest sailors on the High Seas. The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates walks a fine line between portraying pirating as unsavory and as fun, making it a sure hit for everyone who has dreamed of having adventures at sea.
I admit I’m somewhat surprised to find the “girl is denied entry to a boy’s profession and then proves she’s as good as the men” story line still going strong. I certainly don’t deny the existence of misogyny in our society, but this isn’t generally how it manifests itself anymore, so I’m interested that it’s appealing to the current generation of young readers, even if the reductive explanation is “Well, this story takes place in some unspecified olden time, so this practice makes sense in that context.” At any rate, I bought into every minute of it, so I guess I’m as enthusiastic about girl power stories as anyone. Plus, The Very Nearly League of Pirates does a good job of portraying all kinds of girl power; “proper” finishing girls can be just as kickass as pirates.
My favorite character, however, is not Hilary but the gargoyle. Besides how stylish he looks in a hat, he is funny, brave, and kind—the perfect protagonist’s companion for any middle grade novel. He’s enthusiastic about nearly everything and always willing to help. The adventure certainly wouldn’t be half as fun without him, and I look forward to seeing him in the next book. I also enjoyed his interview that came as an “extra” with the book, and I don’t think he’s half wrong in asking to retitle the book The Magnificent Gargoyle. I would read that novel.
Most of all, however, I loved that this book is half silly and half serious, one of the reasons I love middle grade. I don’t think I would find a fearsome pirate being forced to dress up as a beet (every beet merchant needs a mascot!) for a disguise in a YA or adult novel. But, beyond the quirks, the book also makes some very good points about whether you should assume someone is good or bad based on their social class and whether it’s appropriate for someone to step away from responsibility simply because they’re tired of it. Sure, some of the issues raised could probably be explored a bit more than they are, but overall this book is nearly perfect. I’m looking forward to the sequel.