Of all the pirates that terrorized the sea, most were male, but Kingston by Starlight is the tale of one woman who defied the odds to live as a man, joining the crew of a ship captained by the infamous Calico Jack Rackam. Narrated by Ann Bonny as an aging woman, the novel reviews the tumultuous years of her colorful life surviving capture and hardship, with occasional dialogue surfacing in a predominantly memoir/monologue.
Annís early years in Ireland are relatively comfortable, she and her mother protected by her wealthy father's reputation - until he gambles away his fortune and sets sail for North Carolina in the New World. Without resources, Bonny and her mother struggle for a now-meager existence and are finally forced to seek a place in the New World as well, hopefully locating the errant father.
For Ann, the ocean voyage is revelatory as she and her mother sail aboard a slaver. They are horrified when the ship takes on the precious slave cargo, all of them forced to live (or die) in inhuman conditions. Sympathizing with the plight of the Africans, Bonny understands something of the future that awaits in America if she and her mother fail to find the father.
Once landed in North Carolina, Ann learns that her father has already left for Jamaica; her mother falls ill, leaving the girl alone. There is no legitimate employment in the early eighteenth century for decent women; their only choices are marriage or streetwalking. The feisty Ann refuses to consider either. With a great admiration for the inherent freedom of male pursuits, she cuts her hair, travels to Barbados and begins the ribald life of a pirate aboard the William, captained by Calico Jack.
Through many adventures, Bonn, as she is now known, keeps her true identity secret, reveling with her mates, dueling with another sailor, Read, although both are conscious of an instant attraction to one another. Eventually, Bonn retires with Calico Jack, living in relative plenty until approached by Read and another former shipmate with tales of gold and treasure too great to ignore. One more voyage will suffice to ensure all their fortunes, a final escapade.
Bonn reveals all in the course of the book, her loves, losses and regrets, but has clearly survived to tell the tale. There are heartbreaking revelations, plot twists and turns to the end. Increased character involvement and dialogue would make Kingston by Starlight a more intriguing read, as Bonn's singular voice becomes somewhat predictable. However, the author does a fine job historically, the action set on turbulent seas in exotic locales, replaying the lusty days of pirate lore and seafaring bravado.