The Unbinding of Mary Reade is a young adult novel written by Miriam McNamara. I was very excited about the opportunity to read this book because I love historical fiction; I don’t read as much Georgian fiction as Regency, but its still an era that I enjoy. In addition to one of my favorite settings, the premise sounded fascinating.
Circumstance has forced Mary Reade to live as a boy named Mark for almost her entire life. As the story begins, Mary’s ship has been attacked by pirates. She chooses to align herself with the pirates, mostly because she sees a girl pirate and imagines being able to go through life as who she is, not who she has to present herself as.
Mary soon discovers that her fascination for Anne the pirate girl is developing into infatuation. There are several problems with this- Anne thinks that Mary is a boy named Mark, and Anne is the pirate captain’s girlfriend. Mary’s safety depends on her ability to keep her secret hidden, and there is no room for negotiation here.
The narrative shifts between Mary’s current predicament and the past, where the reader discovers Mary’s origins, her reasons for living as Mark, and how she ended up in the Caribbean in the first place. This isn’t the most action-packed story- far from it, in fact. However, this is an utterly fascinating look at gender identity and all it entails in an era with some of the most clearly defined gender roles.
Mary is a likeable protagonist who was forced into a situation that she had no choice about, and I found it easy to empathize with her. After such an aggressively active action at the beginning of the book, Mary spends much of book being passive, a prisoner of her unique circumstances, if you will. The supporting characters have fairly static personalities, and there is not a lot of development over the course of the book, but nevertheless, I enjoyed their story arcs and the events that led up to their interaction with Mary.
I would recommend The Unbinding of Mary Reade. This is a fascinating look at life in the 18th century through the eyes of a rather unique protagonist. The book’s conclusion is rather open-ended, and I really hope that there is going to be a sequel. I’m certainly looking forward to more from McNamara in the future!
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book.