In the main, they call me Mary Read.

As for my true name? Go ask the sea.

In a rented room outside Plymouth in 1685, a daughter is born as her half-brother is dying. Her mother makes a decision: Mary will become Mark, and Ma will continue to collect his inheritance money.

Mary’s dual existence as Mark will lead to a role as a footman in a grand house, serving a French mistress; to the navy, learning who to trust and how to navigate by the stars; and to the army and the battlegrounds of Flanders, finding love among the bloodshed and the mud. But none of this will stop Mary yearning for the sea.

Drawn back to the water, Mary must reinvent herself yet again, for a woman aboard a ship is a dangerous thing. This time Mary will become something more dangerous than a woman.

She will become a pirate.

Breathing life into the Golden Age of Piracy, Saltblood is a wild adventure, a treasure trove, weaving an intoxicating tale of gender and survival, passion and loss, journeys and transformation, through the story of Mary Read, one of history’s most remarkable figures.

Our Review

"Tell me your crow name. Tell me the name you will wear to the bottom of the sea. Tell me the name shaped to fit every part of you, instep and underarm and the exact curve of your ear. Tell me the name you hear someone calling in a dream, and wake with your mouth already open to reply. Tell the name that the crows would say, black-voiced, because everybody knows a crow cannot lie.

I've had so many names - some were given to me, and some I took. Each of them was a lie, big or small. The wrong name, or the wrong form, or the wrong time. Sometimes all three

In the main, they call me Mary Read. If I am to be remembered at all, it will likely be by that name.

As for my true name? Go ask the sea."

Saltblood is one of the best fictionalised accounts of true events I have ever read, it was well-researched without being bogged down by facts. It reminded me a little of Alias Grace in terms of the writing style and the way it gives voice to the voiceless. I was surprised to see that this was written by a debut author, just because the narrative voice was so strong. 

Gender identity features heavily in Saltblood, as does the question of what makes something a woman's role and what makes it a man's. 

Mary Read is the unnusual protagonist of the story, Mary was born whilst her half-brother Mark lay dying. Mark's father left them when he was a baby and his parents had been sending money to help raise him ever since. Fearful of losing the money her mother decides that Mary must be raised as Mark, her mother's decision to raise her a a boy has a profound impact on the course her life will take. 

As a teen Mary/Mark is sent into service as a footman, from there she joins the navy and army, and then finally becomes a pirate on the high seas. It is this last adventure that made her infamous - a female priate. 

One of the best bits about Saltblood is the little observations made throughout the book, what it is to be a woman, what it is to be a man, and how those differ. 

"I have seen how a woman will shrink from the bodies of those she must squeeze past. A man crossing the same place will shoulder them aside, or if he's more gently inclined, put his hand on the small of a woman's back to ease her out the way."

Mary may be ambigious about her gender identity but one thing that remains constant is her love of the sea, first and foremost she is a sailor. 

"Saltblooded, wholehearted, I choose the sea."

It is in the pirate republic of Nassau that Mary begins to know herself and allow others to see her as she truly is. Her relationship with Anne serves to exemplify the vast difference between how she acts and how a woman at the time, even one who is not well regarded, is likely to act. 

"She is so fiercely a woman, while I remain something else." 

The author guides the reader into seeing that in a life that hasn't offered her many choices piracy offers her a sense of agency and a choice in how she is seen. 

"For years I feared being exposed for what I truly am. It is still a new thing to dare to believe that what I truly am is this: both and neither."

A fabulous tale.


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Our Rating

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