Title: Pirates of the Narrow Seas Book 1: The Sallee Rovers
Author: M. Kei
Publisher: Bristlecone Pine Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: m/m historical romance
Length: 284 pages
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Ahoy, me hearties! This swashbuckling tale of a pirate and an uptight naval officer excelled in the relationship between the characters but lost me in all the nitty gritty details of life on a ship.
Lieutenant Peter Thorton is in love with fellow lieutenant Perry. Both men are given commissions to serve aboard HMS Ajax, taking an Islamic envoy to talks in France. Thorton makes an enemy of the Captain, who is largely incompetent but does not like people who show they know it. During a storm, the Ajax comes to the rescue of a sinking Spanish galley. The Spanish abandon their vessel, leaving their slaves, chained to the oars, to sink with the ship. Thorton and several of the other British sailors attempt to free the slaves and stop the galley from sinking. As they do so, the storm blows the two ships apart, leaving him surrounded by freed slaves who have no desire to voluntarily sail back to the Ajax to be reunited with their captors.
Command of the galley is taken by Isam bin Hamet al-Tangueli (Captain Tangle to his crew) a famous pirate of the Barbary coast, who had been serving as a galley slave following capture by the Spanish. The story then follows Thorton’s slow naturalization into the ways of the Sallee Rovers, and his growing understanding that he’s better off in a culture that allows him to love other men without censure. Rejected by Perry and wooed by Tangle, Thorton has to decide where his loyalty really lies.
I’ve not read an ‘Age of Sail’ historical before, but I do have a deep and abiding love of
Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean. When I saw this had a similar theme – that of charismatic pirates, uptight naval officers, fighting and other assorted high-jinks on the ocean, I thought I’d give it a go and see what I thought. In the end this was a mixed read, for reasons I shall explain.
Peter Thorton (which for some reason I kept reading as Thornton), is a relatively new Lieutenant in the British Navy. He’s thrilled when he’s given a commission with his best friend Roger Perry, with whom he is secretly in love, on a boat carrying a Sallee diplomat to the south of France. Things don’t go too well for Peter, who is naturally taciturn but who also likes to use his initiative – something that does not endear him to the Captain who is a stickler for rules and regulations. When a rescue attempt of a sinking Spanish galley goes wrong, Peter is left stranded on the galley with a number of freed slaves which includes the handsome and charismatic Sallee privateer, Captain Tangle. Peter is torn between his admiration for the Captain, and his sense of honour and duty to the King’s navy.
As this book is a historical and most of the action takes place on various boats/ships, there’s a lot of detail of the day to day running of a ship and lengthy descriptions of what the ship looks like, how the sails are put up/down, the different ranks/jobs of the men who sail the ship, and various other tiny details about ship life. Those of you who love boats/ships, especially those from the past, are going to be absolutely delighted by the sheer amount of detail you get about life on the ocean wave. If, like me, you’re completely clueless about boats/ships and aren’t really that interested in the minutiae of ship-life, then you may just find all this description a bit dull. I did. Not only that but I found all the ship vocabulary very confusing and simply couldn’t picture in my head where the poop deck was, or what a mizzen or a jib were. This meant that often I could only get the impression that something exciting was happening by the large number of baffling orders being shouted out, rather than being able to picture what was happening on deck. The same was the case with the battle scenes, which are intricately orchestrated, as you can imagine when there’s two ships trying to get in position to blast each other out of the water. However, because I didn’t have the knowledge, I couldn’t imagine the scene in my head, so it was all just a lot of words with little meaning.
Fortunately, as well as all the action on deck, there’s a really good personal story going on alongside the description. It was this part of the book which had me hooked. The character of Peter was well rounded and I liked his slight aloofness which hid an honourable man who just wanted to get on with being the best officer he could. The book was at its best when Peter is interacting with the other characters. Thus I felt all his frustration at his superior when Peter is punished for showing good sense instead of following orders to the letter; his powerful yearning for Roger and his despair at knowing that Roger could never love him back; and his confusion when faced with the dilemma of betraying his country or following a man he admires and respects. I also liked the way that the British Navy is compared to the more laid back approach of the Sallee Rovers, and how that appeals to Peter. Finally, I liked Captain Tangle, who is larger than life, and could see why Peter finds him so attractive.
I feel I ought to mention, for those who don’t like such things, that Tangle is a married man. This causes a lot of tension between Peter and Tangle during the book. Personally, I thought this was resolved very satisfactorily, but I know some readers don’t like infidelity in which case you may not like this book.
Overall, if you love ‘Age of Sail’ books then you’ll probably really like this. In the end, it was the romance and the tensions between characters which was the book’s biggest draw for me – enough that I’m looking forward to the next book.