A reading list for pirate queens

I love books about adventures on the high seas! Also, pirates. Also, FEMALE PIRATES.

But first, here’s a Lazy Town video from 10 years ago:

And here’s some of my favorite books starring female pirates (and/or pirate wannabes):
gift pirate queen The Gift of the Pirate Queen by Patricia Reilly Giff

Grace O’Malley is doing just fine taking care of her father and younger sister, Amy. She certainly doesn’t want her cousin Fiona from Ireland to move in and take over. Grace has enough to worry about, what with Amy’s diabetes and her own problems at school with her teacher.
But Fiona does arrive and tries hard to fit in with the family. It’s still hard for Grace until the day Fiona shares her story of the brave pirate queen named Grace O’Malley. The tale makes her wonder: Does she have the great courage of the pirate queen?

This is one of my favorite kids books– it’s contemporary, but it’s still got this dreamy quality to it from all of Grace’s daydreams. It’s kind of a sad book (because of the dead mother), but watching Grace grow up into being a new, independent person is pretty empowering.

Pirate Queen Sjoholm
The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O’Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea by Barbara Sjoholm

The Pirate Queen begins in Ireland with the notorious Grace O’Malley, a scourge to the most powerful fleets of sixteenth-century Europe. This Irish clan chieftain and pirate queen was a contemporary of Elizabeth I, and a figure whose life is the stuff of myth. Regularly raiding English ships caught off Ireland’s west coast, O’Malley purportedly fought off fierce Algerian pirates just hours after giving birth to her son. She commanded two hundred men (and a couple of husbands), and acquired lands and castles that still dot the Irish coastline today. But O’Malley was not alone, especially in the waters of the North Atlantic where author Barbara Sjoholm traveled through coastal communities and seafaring ports to collect these little-known stories. Since ancient times, women have rowed and sailed, commanded and fished, built boats and owned fleets. Yet their incredible contributions have been nearly erased from the history books, as have the myths of seal women, Finn wives, and storm witches. In The Pirate Queen, Sjoholm brings some of these extraordinary stories back to life, taking the reader on an unforgettable journey in this meticulously researched, colorfully written, and truly original work. Illustrations and maps add to these intriguing swashbuckling tales.

Part travel memoir, part biography! The Pirate Queen talks about a lot of famous female pirates (and non-pirate seafaring women, like fisherwomen), though the author mostly sticks to the ones who operated around Europe. This would be a good book to pick up after reading the previous one, to get more background info on the real Grace O’Malley.

PiraticaPiratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas by Tanith Lee

Artemesia is the daughter of a pirate queen, and she’s sick of practicing deportment at the Angels Academy for Young Maidens. Escaping from the school, she hunts up her mother’s crew and breezily commands them out to sea in a leaky boat. Unfortunately, Art’s memories of her early life may not be accurate-her seasick crew are actors, and Art’s infamous mother was the darling of the stage in a pirate drama. But fiery, pistol-proof Art soon shapes her men into the cleverest pirate crew afloat. And when they meet the dread ship Enemy and her beautiful, treacherous captain, Goldie Girl, Art is certain that her memories are real. The Seven Seas aren’t large enough for two pirate queens: Art will have the battle of her life to win her mother’s title–and the race for the most fabulous treasure in pirate lore. This gaudy, outrageous tale sparkles with swordplay, skulduggery, and salty language–not to mention over-the-top comedy!

Okay, so I don’t actually remember Piratica being all that funny? But I DO remember it being swashbuckling and fun. Plus, swordfights!!

she captains
She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea by Joan Druett

Long before women had the right to vote, earn money, or have lives of their own, “she captains” — bold women distinguished for courageous enterprise on the high seas — thrilled and terrorized their shipmates, performed acts of valor, and pirated with the best of their male counterparts. From the warrior queens of the sixth century b.c. to the female shipowners influential in opening the Northwest Passage, She Captains brings together a real-life cast of characters whose audacity and bravado will capture the imagination. In her inimitable style, Joan Druett paints a vivid portrait of real women who were drawn to the ocean’s beauty — and danger — and dared to captain ships of their own.

This is the only book on this list that I haven’t read yet, though it’s on my TBR pile because HELLO, it looks amazing. I think this one goes into further detail on non-European pirates, which is great!

assassin's curse cassandra rose clarke
The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. When Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together.

To break the spell, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks–all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic…and the growing romantic tension between them.

She’s a pirate without a ship, but not for long! (Hopefully, anyway. I haven’t read the sequel yet.) Magic and romance abound in this pseudo-Middle Eastern-ish fantasy, one of my favorites I’ve read this year.

What’re your favorite pirate queen books?

Further reading: high seas reading list

2 thoughts on “A reading list for pirate queens”

    1. I was about to comment saying the same thing, Jenny! The only book I’ve read that fits is The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

      But you know what, I think that counts. Charlotte is basically a pirate. So I guess that’s my favorite 😀

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