Title: Cross Bones
Editor: Anne Regan
Cover Artist: Catt Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Cross Bones
Genre: M/M historical, science fiction, contemporary romance
Length: 356 pages
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
A very enjoyable set of pirate themed stories.
Ahoy, me proud beauty, shiver me timbers! I ask ye to sail me jollyboat on the high seas, lubber, but will ye dare to accept? On offer be a pirate’s life full of danger and risk, and not just to yer neck, but to yer very virgin heart! There’s many a bodice to be ripped–or perhaps I should say many a codpiece to be snapped–and should ye be graced enough to cross bones with a corsair, don’t be an addlepate! Heave ho, lad, handsomely, and show him how ye bury yer treasure!
Pirates didn’t only sail the high seas in historical times. Modern-day renegades and futuristic rebels are just as ripe for adventure and plunder. No matter the time, place, or circumstances, bad boys steal affection as often as they salvage treasure, and in these stories of romance, a rogue’s black heart always conceals a center of gold.
I have to admit I approached this anthology with a certain amount of trepidation because I was convinced that nearly all the stories would be akin to Pirates of the Carribean slash. Whilst there were certainly a couple of stories which fit into that mode, and another couple which could have had their origins in Firefly fan-fic, on the whole this was a pretty good balanced mix of stories, themes and genres. I was pleasantly surprised.
There wasn’t one story which I didn’t find entertaining, and whilst the pirate theme was strong in all of them, they didn’t slip into cliche, for which I am thankful. However, my favourite stories were the ones that came at the theme slightly sideways, where the setting may be a pirate boat, or the characters pirates, but that was incidental to the overall theme of the story.
One such story, my favourite from the anthology, was From a Simmer by B. Snow, which had as its hero, Sule, an escaped African slave who found work on a pirate ship. When the captain rescues a young man who speaks Dutch, he calls Sule to translate. Sule cannot bear the thought of conversing in the language of the slavers who took him from his homeland, and even the discovery that Olaf is Norwegian doesn’t diminish the anger he feels towards the man. What I particularly liked about this story, other than its firm grounding in time and place is the way that the author portrays the anger and confusion of Sule, and his developing relationship with Olaf who stands for all that he hates. The change in Sule is gradual and wonderful to read. My only niggle was the way the author switched between present and past tense. It was all correct, but just distracting.
My second favourite story was a bittersweet story, Objectivity by K.J. Johnson, which was a modern day story. It followed journalist Matthew who is on a field assignment getting the story behind East African pirates. He’s tagging along with a set of pirates captained by Achmed who he both admires and fears a great deal. What worked best for me with this story was the uneasiness of the relationship between Matthew and Achmed. Matthew is frightened of Achmed but also fiercely attracted to him too. The dust, heat and poverty of East Africa is vividly described and the whole story is very poignant and balanced in its views of the pirates. My only complaint was the rather inappropriately placed sex scene at the end, especially given that Matthew had been shot not long before and wasn’t even on pain killers. Such a shame to spoil what had been a hard-hitting and memorable story.
Honorable mentions need to go to Irish Red by M.J. O’Shea and Black John by Piper Vaughn, a delightful pair of interlinked stories which told the stories of two separate but linked couples; Touched by the West Wind by Ellen Holiday which left me smiling with its tale of two young friends who find companionship and love on a pirate ship; and My Hand in Yours by Emily Moreton which had two mismatched men whose sexual relationship turns into more, leading to hard decisions.
Even those stories I haven’t mentioned here were all well written and enjoyable with rounded characterisation and thoughtful, or humourous, or sexy, or tender romance themes (and sometimes all four!). I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Cross Bones to those who like pirate stories, anthologies and all those looking for an interesting and varied set of short stories.