The curse of the blue tattoo is the second novel in the Bloody Jack series. Like the rest of the series, the setting departs considerably from that of the previous novel while still maintaining its wit and sense of adventure. It is in equal parts school story, fish-out-of-water comedy, and murder mystery.
Brief plot description
(minimal spoilers for the previous installment)
Bloody Jack ends with Jacky Faber, her gender having been discovered by her captain, being dropped off at an East Coast bording school for young ladies. Jacky is then forced to contend with a minister named Mather, “old money” types, and strict teachers all while trying to figure out how to be reunited with her Jaimy, her One True Love.
So how is it?
L.A. Meyer has successfully followed up on one of the great YA historical fiction novels of all time. As could probably be forseen, Jacky’s background as street urchin turned naval officer does not exactly prepare her for life at a boarding school for fine young ladies. Meyer takes full advantage of this fact, from Jacky’s attempts to learn embroidery to her discovery that the Boston police don’t look kindly on dancing in public.
The curse of the blue tattoo is in some ways a more serious book than its predecessor. It is still a light, fun read, but issues of race, sex, and class form the central part of the narrative. Jacky finds she has more in common with the servants than her fellow students, and is appalled at the way they are treated by the privileged girls. One of the characters comes to school with her slave. The local Puritan minister seems to have an excessive interest in Jacky’s “salvation”. The book never seems overly serious or bogged down, but thematically it carries more weight than the previous volume. This is much in line with the way the rest of the series goes, gaining a greater emphasis on issues like women’s rights, the double standards regarding male and female sexuality, poverty and class, and racial discrimination. They never become preachy, but Meyer doesn’t shy away from sending a strong message. It’s totally possible to enjoy these books without paying any consideration to that fact.
The curse of the blue tattoo sets the stage for the rest of the series in another way, as well, by introducing Jacky’s friend Amy Trevelyne*. This relationship sets up the basis for what will eventually become the frame story of the series. It’s an interesting approach.
In keeping with the series’s penchant for sneakily inserting literary characters, a character introduced near the end is a one-legged sea captain attempting to seek revenge on an elusive white whale. He doesn’t draw attention to this, but it makes the series a little more fun to read if you enjoy trying to pinpoint all of the “borrowed” characters.
*I was convinced this character was a Quaker when I started to write this review. Looking online it appears that she’s an open-minded Puritan instead. While that makes more sense given her family background, I automatically assumed Quaker because she comes from a family of abolitionists.
Jacky continues to be a wonderful protagonist
Switches up the setting to prevent the series from getting stale
It switches up the setting, so people looking for another straightforward naval adventure will be disappointed.
In some ways, it’s a 19th century setting for the classic 80s teen movie formula of lower-class outsider who is faced with constant snobbery from upper-class classmates.
I strongly recommend it to fans of the first book in the series. One person who read the first book on my recommendation resisted reading the second one because they were disappointed that she wasn’t going to be on a ship. I counter this objection by maintaining that (1) All of the fun and adventure of the previous book is still present and (2) the third book returns to the seafaring setting.
It continues to be a great series, and should please both adult fans of historical fiction and younger readers.