The first pages of this story plunge the reader directly into the busy, dirty, dangerous streets of an alternate fantasy world: Port Elisabeth, Jamaica, 1728. The governor’s daughter Apollonia has been warned about the dangers of pirates, but when she sees a strange girl fighting with some ruffians, she can’t restrain her curiosity. Soon enough, she’s on an adventure with the Cursed Pirate Girl, the heroine of our story. Unfortunately, their fledgling friendship goes terribly awry. The Cursed Pirate Girl—now minus an eye—decides it’s time to find her missing father, a notorious pirate. Accompanied by a magical parrot, she sets off on a journey to the most dangerous of seas, where pirates lurk and treasure abounds. When the first volume of her adventures ends, the story isn’t over: is the Cursed Pirate Girl’s father alive or dead? And what will happen if or when she sees Apollonia again?
In addition to the main plot, each chapter is divided by installments of a surreal and fishy love story. There is also an extensive alternate cover gallery and a final short story about the painting of the Cursed Pirate Girl’s wanted poster, which ends with a giant fold-out poster. The book itself is designed to look like a manuscript with weathered edges on the binding and rough cut edges to the paper. To be honest, I found this to be rather annoying as it shed little bits of paper every time I opened the book.
The art and story are clearly inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and John Tenniel’s illustrations. Elaborate black-and-white drawings crowd every inch of the page, featuring characters with grotesquely enlarged heads, animals clothed or in armor, and strange creatures. However, the artist adds his own original twist: the illustrations include elaborate borders, coiling tentacles that encircle the panels, and movement in every corner of the page. The Cursed Pirate Girl’s hair subtly indicates her moods as it swirls around her, loose or in braids; sometimes so long it wraps around other illustrations, sometimes short enough to hang limply around her waist when she is captured or otherwise discouraged. The speech bubbles range from a traditional bubble shape to flames, curlicues, and a dragon—my favorite—as befits the action or character of the moment. Crowd scenes are richly layered, and more and more details become apparent the longer you study the page. It could be said that the art is too elaborate, often distracting the reader from the story, forcing them to search for text amongst the complicated, layered drawings.
Archaia rates Cursed Pirate Girl E for Everyone, stating that “this book contains content suitable for readers of all ages. It may contain minimal violence.” I have to take issue with this; even if the acts are not pictured, death by shark and cutting out a character’s eye do not fit my definition of “minimal violence.” In general, the story is bizarre and coupled with its elaborate art and italicized text, it is not suitable for an elementary or middle grade audience. Teens with strong visual and textual literacy skills may enjoy this title, as would adult graphic novel fans. I would recommend this to older teens and adult readers who enjoy complex stories, fantastical adventures, and a unique artistic style.
Cursed Pirate Girl, vol. 1
by Jeremy A. Bastian
Publisher Age Rating: E (Everyone)