cover image The Changeling

The Changeling

Alison MacLeod. St. Martin's Press, $23.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-312-14564-4

Anne Bonny was a real-life cross-dressing female pirate who went exuberantly against the grain of 18th-century society. In this debut novel, MacLeod tangles her extraordinary subject and a fascinating plot in often labored, self-consciously exquisite poetic imagery. To make Anne more profoundly mysterious, for example, the dangerous, sexually ambiguous renegade is cast as a changeling, a not-quite-human spirit from another world. In Cork County, Ireland, narrator Annie Fullworth takes in Anne's pregnant mother, Sally, who finds love with Thomas Manley. This kindly villager brings Sally and infant Annie to the New World, where Sally dies in childbirth. Raised by Annie in Virginia, Anne marries a visiting seaman and joins him as a crew member on a private ship. Concealing her sex, she begins a romance with another crew member (who also turns out to be female, to Anne's surprise). The couple's secret is discovered when the crew is captured by the British. MacLeod offers many stirring accounts of Anne's adventures, displaying an impeccable knowledge of period detail. Her self-consciously mystical writing is more problematic, occasionally enhancing character development but more often burying what might have been a dynamic story. Nonetheless, the indomitable Anne Bonny survives as a memorable character, and MacLeod's relish for inventive historical narrative marks her as an author to watch. (Dec.)