ARC Review: The Unbinding of Mary Reade

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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SummaryA swashbuckling, smart novel based on the true story of a girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to sail with the infamous pirates Anne Bonny and Calico Jack.

There’s no place for a girl in Mary’s world. Not in the home of her mother, desperately drunk and poor. Not in the household of her wealthy granny, where a girl could never be named an heir. And certainly not in the arms of Nat, her childhood love who never knew her for who she was. As a hired sailor aboard a Caribbean merchant ship, Mary’s profession—and her safety—depend on her ability to disguise the fact that she’s a girl.

Leastways, that’s what she thinks is true. But then pirates attack the ship, and right in the middle of the swashbuckling crowd of bloodthirsty pirates, Mary spots something she never could have imagined: a girl pirate. The sight of a girl standing unafraid upon the deck, gun and sword in hand, changes everything. In a split-second decision, Mary turns her gun on her own captain and earns herself a spot among the pirates’ crew.

For the first time, Mary has a shot at freedom. But imagining living life as her true self is easier, it seems, than actually doing it. And when Mary finds herself falling for the captain’s mistress, she risks everything—her childhood love, her place among the crew, and even her life.

Release date: June 19th

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★★★.5

3.5 stars

This book is perfect for those who are a lot into romance and not that much into action.
I personally love books with pirates in them, but I also admit that I’m not the biggest fan of action scenes and all of the things you would expect from a book where everyone is a pirate. So, this overall worked for me, but it won’t work for you if you’re going into it expecting a lot of pirate badassery. I would have certainly liked a little more of that but I didn’t mind it this way either.

⚓️ What I liked: 
• Basically, all the “good” characters were bisexual or potentially bi.
• The two timelines showed the different struggles Mary faces
• I really liked the romance taking place in the first timeline and the trope of “forbidden love”
• I think the MC had enough depth and was well rounded.
• The happy f/f ending.

🛳️ Stuff I’m not sure what to think of: 
• There’s a lot of bad stuff in here. Homophobia, transphobia, sexism, abuse, sexual assault. I didn’t really love reading about that, but I also understand why they were there. Historical realism and all that. But… I just can’t help but wonder whether all of that was necessary. I think there should be a way to keep it realistic and accurate while not focusing the major part of the book around those things.
• I also don’t know how trans and genderqueer people are going to feel about the whole forced crossdressing thing. I legit don’t know, so I’m adding this point here. I’ve always enjoyed stories where the main heroine had to fake being a man but I’m a cis person and while I do think that this book had some depth when it comes to both gender and sexuality, in a few cases I wondered how a not cis person would feel while reading this.

⚓️ What I didn’t like (some spoilers ahead): 
• I found that there wasn’t actually that much romantic chemistry between Anne and Mary. Sexual, maybe, but I wasn’t 100% on board with the romance itself, and I didn’t like how Mary was shown to up to the very end still have feelings for Nat. It’s kind of dangerous territory for bi representation and while I wasn’t hurt by it because I understood Mary’s feelings, I can’t tell whether it won’t bother others.
• I felt like the last few chapters in the past were unnecessary. I don’t know if I’ve missed something, but I could have done without the story ending right where it began, since I don’t think this full-cycle thing really added anything to the story.

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018 and while it didn’t fully deliver I did enjoy reading it, and the main reason I did is because it used a lot of tropes that I’ve always enjoyed that kept me hooked to the page. If that sounds like something for you, you’ll probably enjoy it too, as long as you don’t expect too much action and are aware that the pirate theme is mostly in the background.

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