Raven Xingtao, whose story begins in the third volume of Princeless [see our review here], Jeremy Whitley’s Eisner-nominated series, is the daughter of the Pirate King and an accomplished pirate in her own right. She is heir to her father’s fleet, but her two greedy younger brothers convince her father that because she is a girl, she should be imprisoned for her safety instead.
Book One, aptly titled Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, opens with Raven, newly freed from the tower in which her scheming brothers imprisoned her, on the hunt for a crew to sail a ship she’s stolen from another pirate. Book Two (Free Women), Book Three (Two Boys, Five Girls, and Three Love Stories), and Book Four (Two Ships in the Night) follow Raven and her crew as they learn to work together, face down their rivals, and grow strong enough to confront Raven’s brothers.
Initially, the story focuses on Raven’s single-minded quest for revenge, but as she assembles her all-female crew and sets sail, the story increasingly focuses on the connections among the women on-board and the way they protect and care for one another. The ship becomes a haven against the incompetent grandstanding common among the pirate men who challenge them along the way. Raven’s crew consists of women of diverse races, sizes, abilities, and sexualities. Multiple main characters are openly LGBTQ+, including Raven herself, and the friendships and romantic relationships among these characters feature prominently throughout the series.
Jeremy Whitley writes every issue of Raven the Pirate Princess, and it is similar in tone to Princeless. Raven and her crew are funny, resourceful, and endlessly supportive of one another as they learn to work together as a team. While this is not an Own Voices story, Whitley navigates Raven’s feelings and experiences, and those of the other crew members, with grace and thoughtfulness. Artists Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt (Books 1-3) and Xenia Pamfil (Book 4) complement the story with scenery and characters that are distinctive and rich in detail.
While Princeless is suitable for audiences of any age, Raven the Pirate Princess includes content that may be better suited to the tween and teen crowd. For example, when Raven is interviewing pirates to form her crew in Book One, most of the humor hinges on the reader understanding the references behind the sexism of the male candidates (“You’re probably not even a real pirate girl,” one laments. “I bet you don’t even know what Captain Fraction’s name was before he changed it!”). Though younger audiences may certainly enjoy the series, and there is no content that would be inappropriate for this age group, some cultural references and tongue-in-cheek jokes may fly over their heads. This title will appeal most strongly to readers who recognize and appreciate these references to real-world frustrations.
There is one caveat to my enthusiastic support of Raven the Pirate Princess: there is a sharp thematic change between the third and fourth volumes. Book four came out after a year long hiatus and features the opening arc of a new title (Raven The Pirate Princess: Year Two). The focus of the story veers sharply away from the camaraderie and revenge narrative driving the first three books and toward shallow disagreements and manipulative cat-fighting among the crew members, whose personalities deviate significantly from their Year One counterparts. The plot of books 1-3 goes unmentioned entirely. It is a significant and jarring departure from an otherwise very strong series.
Despite my disappointment in the fourth installment, it is worth purchasing the series in its entirety, as Raven the Pirate Princess is still ongoing. Book Five: Get Lost Together was released on June 26th. While Princeless vol. 3 establishes the context for Raven’s story, it is not necessary to read Princeless before beginning the Raven series. Raven is structured with new readers in mind, and the first pages provide enough exposition to follow the story fully. This series is an excellent purchase for fans of Princeless and other high-energy and relationship-driven adventure series, including Lumberjanes, The Legend of Korra, and Misfit City.
Raven the Pirate Princess, vols 1-4
by Jeremy Whitley
Art by Rosy Higgins,Ted Brandt, and Xenia Pamfil
vol 1 ISBN: 9781632291196
vol 2 ISBN: 9781632291295
vol 3 ISBN: 9781632291400
vol 4 ISBN: 9781632292643
Action Lab, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12 years