The Only Life That Mattered

Written by James L. Nelson
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

The Only Life That Mattered is a faithful retelling of the lives of three eighteenth century Caribbean pirates, and Mr. Nelson couldn’t have chosen better characters: Anne Bonny, the lovely bastard daughter of a comfortable Charleston planter, with an adventurous streak so wide that she takes to the “sweet trade” willingly; Mary Read, an Englishwoman forced to dress as a boy from birth, who makes her way in the world as a soldier, sailor, tavern-keeper and wife, until she is taken off a Dutch ship by pirates; and Calico Jack Rackam, a debonair dandy who in one bold move wrests control of a ship from his mentor pirate, comes to dislike the responsibility and takes the governor’s pardon – only to slip back into the trade again, and from there into dissolution, cowardice, and a justified hanging. James Nelson writes with clarity and flair and a sharp sense of the dramatic. He sticks to the documented facts – this truth is stranger than any fiction! – and he lets the reader speculate on what may have happened to the surviving pirate, long after she’d given up the trade. Altogether, The Only Life That Mattered is a rousing, entertaining, and honest chronicle of the last years of the golden age of piracy. (Ed. note: This is a rewritten version of The Sweet Trade, written as Elizabeth Garrett, and published by Forge in 2001.)