Review: Pirates by G.A. Hauser

Justin Alexander Taylor had always dreamed of a life at sea. Living on the tip of England’s coastline, Justin escaped one night from his abusive father and stowed away on a ship. What Justin didn’t realize was the sloop, His Revenge, was a pirate ship, out for a broadside and gold. Captain Richard Jones escaped his own life of hell with the British Royal Navy. Leading the group of ragged men to their next adventure, Captain Jones never expected a stowaway to emerge from the bowels of the ship while they were asea. As the captain sought to protect Justin from the violent crew, a friendship blooms between him and his young charge. Soon immersed in bloody battles with Spanish galleons, the two men form a close bond which is about to be tested. Justin knew he would be in for an adventure when he left England, he just didn’t know he would find the love of his life in the process.

Spoilers ahoy!

Review by Alex Beecroft

This is quite an ambitious book, and a long one. At 223 pages it has more plot than most of the m/m Age of Sail books I’ve been reviewing recently. A quick run down of the story is going to take quite some space:

Justin Taylor stows away on a pirate ship. He’s discovered and nearly raped before being taken to the amazingly gorgeous captain. He’s then put to work in the galley and wins the hearts of the crew by being child-like and amusingly inept at every task he’s given. The entire crew lusts after him, so – for his protection – he has to spend his nights in the cabin with the hunk of a captain.

Meanwhile, the captain is intending to take out some Spanish galleons and grab enough booty to go home to his wife and retire from piracy forever. However, it turns out that he can’t resist young Justin’s seductive skills and soon they are having lots of sex and bathing each other and rubbing ointment into each other’s wounds etc.

This arouses a certain amount of discontent amongst the crew, particularly a man called Will Davis. I was hard pressed to understand quite what was going on here. Apparently although all the men openly lust after the boy, Will saying that the captain might also lust after him is in some way a dangerous thing. At any rate the captain decides to handle this by needling and provoking his discontent crew member, until, during a spell of shore leave, the man attacks him. The captain kills Will and then angsts over it. (But not hard enough to prevent him from having lots more sex with Justin.)

They get home, the captain dumps Justin, despite the boy’s tearful protests, and returns to his wife. But his wife has been told that he’s dead, and has had sex in his absence with an old Navy enemy of his. Naturally he doesn’t think to himself “well, I’ve been shagging the cabin boy from here to Bermuda, so maybe I could forgive her.” No, following the principle that infidelity is only OK for the hero, he walks out on the love of his life and doesn’t look back.

Further stuff ensues in which the poor woman is further humiliated and made to represent the evils of all womankind, while the captain demonstrates even more clearly that he is a complete arsehole by failing to commit suicide and then dumping Justin (again) to go off and live a hermit’s life on Madagascar.

The End.

Of course, there’s an epilogue in which Justin grows up to become a clone of his captain, including acquiring a cabin boy of his own whose love he can casually spurn. But all ends happily (?) when the two are reunited and retire to a simple idyll together on their tropical island.

My feelings on the book:

I imagine that after the précis above it won’t come as any surprise when I say that I don’t know when I’ve read a book that annoyed me as much as this did. I don’t have space to detail all the things about it I disliked, but here is a sample:

Things I disliked

Justin.

He’s sweet and cute and useless at everything. He bursts into tears at every opportunity. He’s naïve, and yet a skilful seducer. Everyone lusts after him. He claims to know how to kill chickens and is then surprised to find out they keep on moving after they’re dead. Presumably his ineptitude is supposed to be funny and endearing. It might be, if he was 12. But he’s 18. He came across to me as a virgin/whore halfwit, a too-stupid-to-live sweet, innocent heroine, mysteriously untouched and unsullied by everything he experiences. Also he says “Blimey” every sentence, presumably to prove that he’s British (on the same principle that all Irishmen say “Begorrah”.)

Captain Jones.

He’s described as the epitome of manliness and command, but he can’t resist the blandishments of the simpering idiot who is his cabin boy. He provokes his friends into trying to shoot him, then angsts when he kills them instead. He dumps his lovers casually, without a backwards glance. Commitment, to him, obviously means “you have to love me for the rest of your life, whereas I will walk away from you whenever I choose.” I don’t find that at all attractive, surprisingly enough.

The misogyny.

The treatment of Jones’ relationship with his wife turned my stomach. If you were going to pick one (and only one) 18th Century attitude to represent accurately, did it really have to be this one?

The anachronism.

I can’t list all the examples of things which made no sense in the context of the time, but the main one, the one which is inescapable and pervasive and affects the way I read everything is this:

Justin – he’s 18. Let me repeat that. He’s eighteen. This is an era at which boys could start to serve on Naval ships as powder monkeys at age 9. A new midshipman—expected to function as an officer and give orders to adult sailors—would typically be 12 or 13. No one is going to be telling an 18 year old “you’re too young to come aboard” and shaking their heads with tolerant amusement when he proves incapable of carrying cake or peeling potatoes.

In fact, Justin is so juvenile that I can’t believe anyone could imagine even a modern 18 year old like this, let alone one of the times. I can’t read this book without getting an icky feeling that I’m actually reading about a slightly backward thirteen or fourteen year old. Which makes the sex scenes especially disturbing.

I think the writing is dull, the setting is riddled with inaccuracies and all the sailors speak like bloggers on “talk like a pirate day.” I would give it a 1.5 because although it’s probably everything I most hate about pseudo-AoS wrapped up in one overlong bundle, it is at least ambitious and I dimly sense the author playing with themes of jealousy and betrayal which I might have been interested in if I had liked the characters enough to care about them.

In the interests of fairness I feel I should say that the book has received good reviews from other review sites, so perhaps it is appealing in some way to a taste that I just don’t share. I feel very much the same about Twilight, after all, yet lots of people enjoy that.

Author’s Website

Buy at Phaze (ebook) Amazon UK Amazon USA(Paperback)

24 Responses

  1. You’re a kinder woman than I am, Alex. I had the great misfortune to purchase not one, but TWO books by this author. I’m still kicking myself for my idiocy.

    What amazes me is how she sells so well, according to the All Romance site. With so many good writers out there, it’s a mystery.

    Are readers becoming easy to please?

  2. *g* Thanks, Brigid. I have to assume that there are a lot of people who want to read exactly the sort of thing that she writes. I can’t see that you can build up a consistent fan-base unless people actually do enjoy what you do.

    It puzzles me too, but I have to shrug and put it down to differences of taste.

    As far as reviews go, though, I think there’s a definite culture of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” at play. There’s a lot of pressure on reviewers only to review things they like – so that nothing ever gets a negative review. Speak Its Name famously won’t let its reviewers get away with that, but we’re out of step with the prevailing attitudes, I think.

    So its a combination of some people genuinely liking it and the people who don’t like it being afraid to say so, I think.

  3. Oh wow. I guess all I can say is, well done for reading it till the end (I struggle getting through if it’s that bad), and I’m glad that this one passed me by.

    • I’ve been thinking that it might have worked better as a m/f romance – that it might even be appealing to the kind of reader who likes to have a heroine to identify with. If Justin was a gently raised 18 year old girl, the whole thing would make a lot more sense. Maybe readers are automatically reading it like that and not caring that he’s supposed to be a young man?

  4. I’ve seen a blog recently extolling exactly this kind of M/M romance – or maybe it should be ‘womanthe’? Historical accuracy not required, plot should revolve entirely around the main protagonists relationship, rape or near rape should abound, and preferably it should be written 1st person from the POV of the sweet innocent virginal hero who is roughly wooed by the alpha male love interest. As long as the readers can put themselves in the narrator’s place I don’t think they care much whether it’s m/m or f/m.

    I’ve read a few f/m romances like that for the lulz but demand more for my money with m/m.

    • Nod nod. As Alex says, this is not meant to denigrate anyone (many people) who found it enjoyable (in the same way people are welcome to like Twilight or Dan Brown) – but as a gay historical blog, we have to take different things into consideration, and we must point out the facts that we find wrong. The problem is many fold I think, is that many readers don’t know–and many actively say that they don’t CARE about the historical accuracy. However I don’t think it excuses the author from saying “many readers don’t care, so I don’t care about getting the facts right.”

      • My own position is that if a book is sold as historical I don’t expect to spend a lot of my time howling at anachronisms [like Big Ben appearing in the pirate manga you reviewed!] but I’m quite prepared to accept even REAL howlers if the story is entertaining enough. If it’s sold as m/m [or f/m] fantasy or it’s under the Mills and Boon or Harlequin Historical label then I have no such high expectations and anything goes.

    • Yes, I think it’s a case of horses for courses. If you just love that kind of classic romance with the strong gender roles and the alpha hero who’s a bit of a douchebag but can be tamed by the heroine/beta, then more power to you – and this book will probably appeal.

      But if you’re in m/m romance because that stuff doesn’t appeal to you – and you’re into historical romance because you like your history as much as your romance, then this is not the book for you :) I’m very firmly in the second camp, so there’s probably no surprise this didn’t appeal to me.

      • I love my history, but at the same time I’m quite prepared to accept the most awful anachronisms if I’ve been hooked by appealing heroes and an exciting plot.

        Sometimes it’s just lovely to turn the brain off for a while.

  5. I, for one, am glad that SIN is willing to write honest, negative reviews. It’s why I turn to this site when I want to purchase a new story.

    I made the mistake of buying “Pirates” and can’t for the life of me finish it. I can’t get past the author’s choice of naming the young man, Justin Taylor. Does she not know that this name is also a character from the TV show, Queer As Folk(US)? There is a huge amount of fanfiction out there about the characters from this show, so anyone who’s familiar with it already has an image for someone with the same name. I can’t believe the author wasn’t aware of this so did she use the name on purpose?

    I’m always angry when I feel like I’ve wasted my money, and I feel like this was one of those times.

    • Thank you, Jolie! Yes, as a review site we sacrifice a lot of popularity, and as reviewers we come in for a certain amount of hostility because we have this policy of telling people what we really think. But, IMO, reviewers are responsible first and foremost to the readers. And readers deserve to get told the truth (as we see it). Readers are the ones putting their money on the line, and in danger of being disappointed if they buy something they were misguided to think was wonderful when it wasn’t.

      Having said that, though, I wouldn’t have known about the name issue, as I don’t watch a lot of TV. So if the author was as lacking in TV culture as me, she might well have just struck unlucky with the name :)

  6. There are a lot of het romances written to precisely this sort of formula, and there are thousands of readers who swallow it whole.

    McDonalds sells billions of burgers. The analogy is exact.

  7. Sal wrote: “My own position is that if a book is sold as historical I don’t expect to spend a lot of my time howling at anachronisms [like Big Ben appearing in the pirate manga you reviewed!] but I’m quite prepared to accept even REAL howlers if the story is entertaining enough. If it’s sold as m/m [or f/m] fantasy or it’s under the Mills and Boon or Harlequin Historical label then I have no such high expectations and anything goes.”

    Yes, I think that clearer labelling and clearer expectations would solve a lot of things. OTOH, I didn’t even go into the historical anachronism in this book because there were things about characterization and plot which annoyed me more than the muddled historical details.

    As I often say, I love Pirates of the Caribbean, and couldn’t give a fig for the fact that they’re wearing clothes that span about 200 years, because the story is such fun and the characters so likable. But if you’re going to ignore historical detail, I think your story has to be extra entertaining to make up for it. And for me this one wasn’t.

  8. Wow, what a lively discussion took place whilst I was sleeping !

    I’m now going to draw my sword and come to the defence of Mills & Boon.

    As well as m/m historicals, I read a lot of M&B
    Historicals (the US Harlequin Historicals are a different species) and they have some damn fine authors writing for them. Take a look at the Historical Romance UK website (which features a number of M&B authors). You’ll see how seriously these writers take their craft, and the inspiration and research prcoess that takes place with every novel they write.

    And unlike G.A. Hauser, they can actually write!

    (By the way – WHY DOES THE UK HAVE THE BEST AUTHORS ??)

    Whenever people bag M&B, I always wonder if they have actually read any M&B novels! Personally, I find little to cavil with the level of historical accuracy shown in these stories. Sure, in reality rich dukes did not marry penniless governesses, but these are ROMANCES.

    I strongly doubt that Pirates, if it had been submitted to M&B with milksop “Justine” as the crybaby, helpless heroine and a loathsome hero, would have been accepted.

    Believe me, any M&B Historical is far superior to the truly abysmal “Pirates.”

    • *g* I must admit that I have never read a Mills and Boon novel, but having met a lady who writes historicals for M&B at the Romantic Novelists Association and heard about all the lengths that she goes to to make sure her facts are correct, I know better than to dismiss M&B out of hand. It’ll be a happy day for all of us when they start accepting m/m romances :)

      So, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to give the impression that I was looking down on M&B. Since I haven’t read anything of theirs, I don’t feel qualified to have an opinion about them at all (other than to feel that I can’t imagine someone like Mary writing for a publisher with no class.)

      • I’m looking forward to the day they publish m/m romances too, Alex. (The world desperately needs m/m regencies, in my humble opinion.)

        Incidentally, I have read a couple of M&B historicals that have had gay characters (although usually no more than a walk on part, or only hinted at.)

        Who knows? It may happen one day. We can but live in hope! (And M&B is a publisher that moves with the times, which is why they’re still around after more than 100 years! So anything is possible.)

  9. Oh, it’s interesting about them including walk on gay characters! Maybe they’re testing the waters :) I hope that Carina Press do well, and that encourages Harlequin to move GBLT stories into their paperbacks. I’m sure it will come – I think it’s just a matter of time.

    I can’t remember the titles, but I’m sure I’ve seen a couple of m/m regencies reviewed on SIN quite recently. Maybe by Ava Marsh?

  10. Alex, thanks for this review. Interesting comments, everybody.

    I laughed at the characters talking like bloggers on “talk like a pirate day.” LOL. Someone desperately needs to tell this author to not write dialect as a way of giving characters personality. It doesn’t work and it’s insulting to the characters. I read one story of hers recently that featured an Italian exchange student and he sounded like an ignorant hillbilly who spoke some weird sort of pidgin English. It was dreadful.

    I’ll stay away from this offering…thanks for the review!

    • Well, I don’t mind a bit of well done dialect – in fact I’ve been known to do that myself. But I think it’s always good advice that if you don’t know what dialect words mean, you shouldn’t use them. I got very annoyed in this with the fact that almost all the characters use “naught” to mean “not.” (I thought everyone knew it means “nothing”.) The sailing commands that the captain gives in battle don’t actually mean anything – as if she had put anything down that sounded good – and it is kind of disrespectful to the language to use it as if the actual words you use don’t matter. And yes, it makes the characters sound stupid too.

      Doing dialect well is very difficult, but doing it badly is – as you say – much worse than not doing it at all.

  11. I just want to thank this site so much for the honest reviews. I think it takes courage and integrity and as a 4 book a week reader I genuinely appreciate it. I just found SIN for the first time and I will be back again and again. Keep up the good work!

    • *g* Thank you, Kim! It’s great to know that you appreciate even the negative reviews. We think it’s important to do them, but it’s naturally not very nice to have to. So it’s good to know that we’re not the only people who think they’re a good thing!

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