Kemosha of the Caribbean

Written by Alex Wheatle
Review by B. J. Sedlock

In 1668, young Kemosha, an enslaved Jamaican, is sold away from the plantation where she and her brother Gregory have toiled for a new master, to work as a tavern wench. She knifes a man who had paid her owner to sleep with her, runs, and is sheltered by Ravenhide, a free Black man. He teaches her to survive, including swordplay lessons. Kemosha becomes skilled enough to make a bet with her master, outlasting him in a sword fight to win her freedom.

Kemosha longs to buy the freedom of Gregory and friend Marta from her original plantation. The only way she can earn money is to persuade the famous Captain Morgan to let her accompany Ravenhide on one of Morgan’s pirate voyages, for a share in the booty. She’s kept on the ship during the raids but is horrified when she witnesses the murderous aftermath. Kemosha desperately wants to escape the madness, to an island she dreams of where she and her loved ones will be free to live as they like. Will the semi-friendly white navigator from the pirate ship help her find such a place, or will he betray her and steal her money?

The book is recommended for ages 12 and up. Young readers will love the swashbuckling heroine, though some may find the Jamaican patois used for Kemosha’s thoughts and dialogue a bit of a struggle. Once I got used to it, I liked how it immersed me in the exotic setting. Kemosha finds romance with Isabella, a runaway hiding in the mountains, and hopes to take her along to the fabled island. The descriptions don’t shy away from depicting violence. The ending foreshadows a sequel. I recommend this book as an exciting addition to young readers’ historical fiction choices about strong, resourceful women of color.