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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 p 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


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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 p 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

30 review for The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenn "JR"

    I do confess - Pirate Queen Grace O'Malley was really the primary draw for me in this book - based on the jacket, I thought it was more of an in depth book, like Richard Zacks' excellent tome on Captain Kidd ("The Pirate Hunter"). What I got, instead - was a single chapter about Grace O'Malley and lots of references to people who apparently know more about and wrote more about her -- and a travelogue covering different roles women played in different communities in the north/west of European coa I do confess - Pirate Queen Grace O'Malley was really the primary draw for me in this book - based on the jacket, I thought it was more of an in depth book, like Richard Zacks' excellent tome on Captain Kidd ("The Pirate Hunter"). What I got, instead - was a single chapter about Grace O'Malley and lots of references to people who apparently know more about and wrote more about her -- and a travelogue covering different roles women played in different communities in the north/west of European coastal communities. And a lot of personal reflections and musings on love for the sea and reinventing oneself. Yes - it was confusing for a few chapters - a bit of a bait and switch. But, some of what she wrote was interesting. Some of what she wrote was silly - but not as silly as some of Bill Bryson's travel stuff and personal reflections. Interesting but not necessarily a reflection of much primary source research -- more of a hobby/personal book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    AR 3.5 Like many other readers, I was expecting the content of this book to be different. However, the subtitle is an accurate description. I would have liked to learned more about the women of the sea, but i'm happy to have discovered what I did. AR 3.5 Like many other readers, I was expecting the content of this book to be different. However, the subtitle is an accurate description. I would have liked to learned more about the women of the sea, but i'm happy to have discovered what I did.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Liam

    I'm sorry, I couldn't get beyond the second chapter. This is more about the author than about the figures she is in search of, and frankly, she isn't that interesting. I'm sorry, I couldn't get beyond the second chapter. This is more about the author than about the figures she is in search of, and frankly, she isn't that interesting.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lark

    What was ostensibly about Grace O’Malley turned out more to be about the author and her high times trolling around Ireland, feeling proud of herself for being so adventurous. Ho hum.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Maryjo Laupp

    I did enjoy reading about the women seafarers whose lives the author sought to learn about. However, so much of the book was wrapped up in detailed descriptions of the weather and the landscape that reading became tedious. And while I enjoy a certain level of vulnerability when authors are writing about their own experiences, the authors angst over changing her name was completely irrelevant to the overall intent of the book. One last little thing - the author makes a comment about everyone bein I did enjoy reading about the women seafarers whose lives the author sought to learn about. However, so much of the book was wrapped up in detailed descriptions of the weather and the landscape that reading became tedious. And while I enjoy a certain level of vulnerability when authors are writing about their own experiences, the authors angst over changing her name was completely irrelevant to the overall intent of the book. One last little thing - the author makes a comment about everyone being drawn to the sea which is a HUGE overreach. I, personally, am far more drawn to wooded or mountainous areas and have never felt the inextricable tug of the sea that the author obviously feels. While I admire her passion - and can completely understand it, having my own "favorite places" - it's a fallacy for her to assume that everyone feels as she does. If it weren't for the fact that I've learned more about women who "bucked the norms", I would have rated the book far lower.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shar

    If you like travelogues and memoirs with some history thrown in, this is the book for you. It was not for me. From reading the jacket cover, I strangely thought it was a history book. It does have history woven in but I would have preferred that this was the focus. I only made it about a third of the way through before giving up. Just not history served up the way I was expecting or prefer. I am off in pursuit of a different book to satisfy my curiosity about the magnificent and complicated Grac If you like travelogues and memoirs with some history thrown in, this is the book for you. It was not for me. From reading the jacket cover, I strangely thought it was a history book. It does have history woven in but I would have preferred that this was the focus. I only made it about a third of the way through before giving up. Just not history served up the way I was expecting or prefer. I am off in pursuit of a different book to satisfy my curiosity about the magnificent and complicated Grace O’Malley.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa Baker

    I was excited to read more about women pirates only to discover minimal history and a lot of self-reflection from the author. If it were queued up that way, I would’ve been more receptive but just not the book I was looking for. Made it about halfway and gave up, then skimmed the pages for the history bits (I didn’t find many).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    I guess, unrealistically, I thought this book would be mostly a biography of Grace O'Malley, even though the title states it's about others also. I expected more facts, but again, almost all the people the author wrote about were alive 200 years or more ago. I guess, unrealistically, I thought this book would be mostly a biography of Grace O'Malley, even though the title states it's about others also. I expected more facts, but again, almost all the people the author wrote about were alive 200 years or more ago.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    Good, but couldn't hold my interest. More of a travel and self-discovery for the author instead of a history Good, but couldn't hold my interest. More of a travel and self-discovery for the author instead of a history

  10. 5 out of 5

    Maurine

    Too much of her personal story and not enough about the seafaring women.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mrs Darcy

    While there were many interesting stories of women of the sea, the book is primarily a travelogue/autobiography. Learned some interesting things while skimming though!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pt Bunch

    Barbara Sjoholm wonderfully combines personal history with myth, history, and journey. She celebrates the strength and courage of seafaring women, and by extension, all women. Her language moves from weirdly beautiful "Black pebbles like a million hard droplets from the center of the earth covered the half-circle of the bay," to straightforward descriptions of friends "...Gerd jumped in naked and came out much refreshed and ready for a Marlboro." The Pirate Queen begins inauspiciously, a garishl Barbara Sjoholm wonderfully combines personal history with myth, history, and journey. She celebrates the strength and courage of seafaring women, and by extension, all women. Her language moves from weirdly beautiful "Black pebbles like a million hard droplets from the center of the earth covered the half-circle of the bay," to straightforward descriptions of friends "...Gerd jumped in naked and came out much refreshed and ready for a Marlboro." The Pirate Queen begins inauspiciously, a garishly wigged replica of Grace, beer can littered castles, doubts about the reasonableness of the journey. I love this because it shows me the journey MS Sjoholm makes. She is unsure of the risk she's taking, unsure of the project's relevance, unsure of her motives. She comes to embrace her own doubts so she can overcome them, just as the women she admires overcame their doubts and circumstances. By the journey's end, she knows herself: she loves the sea, loves adventure, loves women, and loves herself. This book, a journey between soft bound covers, explores the personal transformation travel can have. Absolutely a joy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    “With source materials do hard to obtain from the other side of the world, I decided that to really get a picture of women’s maritime lives in history and myth, it would be far easier to travel there myself than to keep requesting interlibrary loans. I wanted to see those same coastlines I was reading about, to sail those same seas.” This reader will never know why Sjoholm and her publisher titled this book The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea. The ti “With source materials do hard to obtain from the other side of the world, I decided that to really get a picture of women’s maritime lives in history and myth, it would be far easier to travel there myself than to keep requesting interlibrary loans. I wanted to see those same coastlines I was reading about, to sail those same seas.” This reader will never know why Sjoholm and her publisher titled this book The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea. The title is misleading – there is only a little bit of information about Grace O’Malley. It is not enough, in my mind, to put O’Malley on the cover of the book although it attracts readers. Fortunately, I was interested in the whole topic of women and the sea rather than just O’Malley. Once I realized that this book serves two purposes – to tell the tale of women’s maritime lives and to tell Sjoholm’s own travel stories, I enjoyed this book. It was not the best travelogue I have ever encountered, but not the worse either. Sjoholm is interested in her topic and went to great lengths to find out more about real and imaginary women sailors. The women that Sjoholm researches are interesting and I was glad to learn about them. The book is illustrated which is a nice touch. If you have an interest in unusual travel plans or in women in unlikely jobs, you will probably find something in this book. If you are looking for just Grace O’Malley, you might do better with a novel like The pirate queen: the story of Grace O'Malley, Irish pirate by Alan Gold or Ann Moore’s Gracelin O’Malley. I haven’t read either, but they both look interesting.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    I picked it up thinking it was a biography of a swashbuckling heroine. Turns out to be a travelogue of the North Sea. Unexpected, but it's good to explore a different genre sometimes. The author paints a vivid picture of the bleak, rocky, vigorous islands touching the North Sea, from Ireland to the Orkneys to Norway. The people she meets are perplexing and unusual. I don't want to travel there myself (brrr), but I am more curious about it than I ever was before. But it's the women she researches I picked it up thinking it was a biography of a swashbuckling heroine. Turns out to be a travelogue of the North Sea. Unexpected, but it's good to explore a different genre sometimes. The author paints a vivid picture of the bleak, rocky, vigorous islands touching the North Sea, from Ireland to the Orkneys to Norway. The people she meets are perplexing and unusual. I don't want to travel there myself (brrr), but I am more curious about it than I ever was before. But it's the women she researches who are the soul of the story. She teases out little-known tales of women who went to sea - to become pirates, merchants, fisherfolk, and legends. Stories of great women, women who lived outside the box of social proprieties, are often few and far-between, and rarely make the history books. But they get passed down in whispers and local gossip and fairy tales, a thin thread preserving a fascinating legacy. Dare to dream, ladies!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anastasia Hobbet

    Sjoholm should have re-titled this book and re-written those first couple of chapters. Packaged as is, they make for a misleading hook, thus all these disappointed, even exasperated, readers. I find myself wondering if the flashy title was her publisher's idea, and she wrote those early Grace O'Malley chapters more with more hope than good judgment. They don't belong in this otherwise fine book--or at least they don't belong in this form, in which Sjoholm promises a much different book than she Sjoholm should have re-titled this book and re-written those first couple of chapters. Packaged as is, they make for a misleading hook, thus all these disappointed, even exasperated, readers. I find myself wondering if the flashy title was her publisher's idea, and she wrote those early Grace O'Malley chapters more with more hope than good judgment. They don't belong in this otherwise fine book--or at least they don't belong in this form, in which Sjoholm promises a much different book than she delivers. What she delivers is excellent, both educational and entertaining. She got me interested in a topic I felt I had very little interest in, no small feat. She's a travel writer, first and foremost, with the travel writer's propensity toward some autobiography. I like that. But the title is a problem--and it's lost her many potential fans, I feel sure.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Frrobins

    The title and the description of this book are extremely misleading. I was expecting a biography of Grace O'Malley and other seafaring women. Instead this was a story about the author's search for information about Grace O'Malley and other women connected to the sea, whether they were captains or fisherwomen. I found the parts that detailed the lives of Grace O'Malley and other women such as Janet Forsyth and Freydis Eiriksdottir fascinating. I also found the information about the Sami and the h The title and the description of this book are extremely misleading. I was expecting a biography of Grace O'Malley and other seafaring women. Instead this was a story about the author's search for information about Grace O'Malley and other women connected to the sea, whether they were captains or fisherwomen. I found the parts that detailed the lives of Grace O'Malley and other women such as Janet Forsyth and Freydis Eiriksdottir fascinating. I also found the information about the Sami and the history of the far north intriguing. However, I found the author's stories of her tracking down the information to be tiresome and I ended up skimming them. There was a lot of focus on her personal journey, and her desperate attempts to tie herself to these women that I just couldn't get into.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    The title of this book is misleading. The title should read "Adventures of Women and the Sea". Barbara travels from Ireland to Orkney Islands to Shetland Islands to Faroe Island to Iceland and then to Northern Sweden following the paths of women of the sea. I found this to be a fascinating voyage of self discovery that opened up some additional doors for my personal research. Too bad the title only mentions Grace O'Malley, Irish privateer that met Queen Elizabeth I. Barbara's descriptions of the plac The title of this book is misleading. The title should read "Adventures of Women and the Sea". Barbara travels from Ireland to Orkney Islands to Shetland Islands to Faroe Island to Iceland and then to Northern Sweden following the paths of women of the sea. I found this to be a fascinating voyage of self discovery that opened up some additional doors for my personal research. Too bad the title only mentions Grace O'Malley, Irish privateer that met Queen Elizabeth I. Barbara's descriptions of the places and women she visited are very informative and this book is worth the read!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alyce Cheshire

    Definitely slow to start and more of an autobiography and the story of an introspective journey. My boyfriend suggested I read it, being the longing seafarer that he is, so I wasn't honestly sure what to expect, but I can see how people feel mislead by the title. It is certainly slow to start, and took me a bit longer than average to get through, but I made it. Overall, I would say that it's just okay. I wasn't educated on anything this book pertains prior to, and wasn't reading it in search of w Definitely slow to start and more of an autobiography and the story of an introspective journey. My boyfriend suggested I read it, being the longing seafarer that he is, so I wasn't honestly sure what to expect, but I can see how people feel mislead by the title. It is certainly slow to start, and took me a bit longer than average to get through, but I made it. Overall, I would say that it's just okay. I wasn't educated on anything this book pertains prior to, and wasn't reading it in search of which, either, so given my lack of expectations and an open mind, I say it was just all right.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Siobhan

    It took me a while to read this one which is probably one reason why it seemed more dragged out than it might have been. I was disappointed with this book, mostly because I was expecting a biography of Grace O'Malley, but wound up with about 10% Grace O'Malley, 40% other sea-faring women, and 50% author's personal story. The parts about other women weren't bad, but I wasn't really interested in an autobiography of the author, especially one that was very idealized and cliche. It took me a while to read this one which is probably one reason why it seemed more dragged out than it might have been. I was disappointed with this book, mostly because I was expecting a biography of Grace O'Malley, but wound up with about 10% Grace O'Malley, 40% other sea-faring women, and 50% author's personal story. The parts about other women weren't bad, but I wasn't really interested in an autobiography of the author, especially one that was very idealized and cliche.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andria

    I loved this book! The only thing that I wish were different about it is the title. Certainly, I picked it up because it was titled The Pirate Queen and who doesn't want to learn about a pirate queen?! But only a small portion is about Grace O'Malley, the titled pirate queen of the book. The rest is about Barbara Sjoholm's journey to find more stories about women and the sea. It's part history, part mythology, part travel memoir, and all fascinating. I loved this book! The only thing that I wish were different about it is the title. Certainly, I picked it up because it was titled The Pirate Queen and who doesn't want to learn about a pirate queen?! But only a small portion is about Grace O'Malley, the titled pirate queen of the book. The rest is about Barbara Sjoholm's journey to find more stories about women and the sea. It's part history, part mythology, part travel memoir, and all fascinating.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Wren

    The title of this book is incorrect. The author should have added 'and my relationship with their stories' for this is a very personal journey. Forget history the author cares more about making fun of the locals. This is one to skip, she adds herself and her story into every chapter. This would have been worth reading if she had stuck to the research and bound her chapters together with a thread that wasn't me!me!me! The title of this book is incorrect. The author should have added 'and my relationship with their stories' for this is a very personal journey. Forget history the author cares more about making fun of the locals. This is one to skip, she adds herself and her story into every chapter. This would have been worth reading if she had stuck to the research and bound her chapters together with a thread that wasn't me!me!me!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    2.5 stars. Like many other reviewers, I was disappointed to discover that this book was less about Grace O'Malley and other female pirates and seagoing women than the author's personal voyage of self-discovery as she traveled around the Northern Atlantic. However, I did find the stories of Grace O'Malley, Alfhild, Freydis Eiriksson (Leif's sister), Skipper Thuridur and other historical and legendary figures fascinating, and intend to read more about these women. 2.5 stars. Like many other reviewers, I was disappointed to discover that this book was less about Grace O'Malley and other female pirates and seagoing women than the author's personal voyage of self-discovery as she traveled around the Northern Atlantic. However, I did find the stories of Grace O'Malley, Alfhild, Freydis Eiriksson (Leif's sister), Skipper Thuridur and other historical and legendary figures fascinating, and intend to read more about these women.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Deanna

    Obscure women and places inhabit the pages of this book which made much of it fascinating to read. Unfortunately, the author gets a bit bogged down in some of her research, sharing it with the rest of us. And then there's her name change...what that has to do with women of the sea is a little hazy. Obscure women and places inhabit the pages of this book which made much of it fascinating to read. Unfortunately, the author gets a bit bogged down in some of her research, sharing it with the rest of us. And then there's her name change...what that has to do with women of the sea is a little hazy.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Deb W

    Barbara's writing style seems typical these days, the reader reads about the places she's visiting, the histories she learns, and a lot about Barbara -- probably more about Barbara than I would've preferred. Still, it was interesting. If I were more of a sea-going woman interested in ancient Ireland and Norway it would've been more interesting. Barbara's writing style seems typical these days, the reader reads about the places she's visiting, the histories she learns, and a lot about Barbara -- probably more about Barbara than I would've preferred. Still, it was interesting. If I were more of a sea-going woman interested in ancient Ireland and Norway it would've been more interesting.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Allison Hawn

    The information in this book was interesting, however, one had to dig through a lot of 'and I looked at the sea and it was pretty' type writing to find it. The people the author met on her journeys were interesting, and the writing was well-edited. It just wasn't what I was expecting from the title and description. The information in this book was interesting, however, one had to dig through a lot of 'and I looked at the sea and it was pretty' type writing to find it. The people the author met on her journeys were interesting, and the writing was well-edited. It just wasn't what I was expecting from the title and description.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Petrea Burchard

    The back-cover blurbs give the impression that this will be a book about notorious females who plied the high seas. It's actually the author's rather dull memoir, so I felt cheated. Petrea Burchard Camelot & Vine The back-cover blurbs give the impression that this will be a book about notorious females who plied the high seas. It's actually the author's rather dull memoir, so I felt cheated. Petrea Burchard Camelot & Vine

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kayci

    I like it so far. It reads more like a travel book because the author travels to Grace O'Malley's castle in Ireland and is going as far as Norway. I'm excited to continue reading the book and find out what happens. I like it so far. It reads more like a travel book because the author travels to Grace O'Malley's castle in Ireland and is going as far as Norway. I'm excited to continue reading the book and find out what happens.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Charity U

    It's really 3 1/2. It was interesting. Written in first person, it's essentially telling about the author's trip around Europe learning about women and the sea. I had to return it to the library 3/4 of the way through, but it was interesting. :) It's really 3 1/2. It was interesting. Written in first person, it's essentially telling about the author's trip around Europe learning about women and the sea. I had to return it to the library 3/4 of the way through, but it was interesting. :)

  29. 4 out of 5

    J.G. Follansbee

    The Pirate Queen is a wonderful survey of the long tradition of women invading the man's role as pirate leader, focusing on the English and Irish traditions. You'll be surprised at the wonderful stories as the author explores the former haunts of the female pirates of old. The Pirate Queen is a wonderful survey of the long tradition of women invading the man's role as pirate leader, focusing on the English and Irish traditions. You'll be surprised at the wonderful stories as the author explores the former haunts of the female pirates of old.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    What can I say? Barbara Sjoholm has my heart. Really. Every word she writes seems so alive.

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