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.
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.
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
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”.)
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 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?
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.