Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
As The Red King opens, we meet young Andrew, captured by pirates and praying for his life. The monks he was traveling with, the only family he has ever known, have all been killed and Andrew assumes he is next. Little does he know he faces a worse fate. The pirates intend to take him as a gift to Maarten Jan de Worrt, a man who is both powerful and sadistic. Maarten’s fondness for young, beautiful men is well known, and as a sheltered, 19-year-old virgin, Andrew is exactly the kind of play thing Marteen would love.
Fortunately, Andrew finds himself rescued by another group of pirates led by Ruaidhri (Rory), the Red King. Rory’s tale of fighting his way to freedom, slaughtering all his captors, and taking over as ship captain is legendary. He and his sailors protect the coast, stopping slavers and fighting to keep the waters safe from Maarten and his men. And Rory has his own history with Maarten and that personal experience makes it clear exactly what Andrew would face at his hands. But Rory has spent years seeking revenge against Maarten is also determined to stop him once and for all. He decides that the price of Andrew’s freedom will be to help him destroy Maarten.
But Andrew is not ready for that challenge yet. He needs to learn to fight and defend himself and prepare for the task. What neither Rory or Andrew expects, however, is that during their time together they would fall for one another. Andrew is so sweet, so innocent and good. He draws Rory in with his open and loving nature. Yet he is also incredible strong, determined, and fierce when he needs to be. The combination of innocence and strength totally wins not only Rory’s heart, but the respect and admiration of the crew. And Rory is powerful, a natural leader with a wild mane of red hair and a strong body. Yet he is loyal and fiercely protective of his crew and those people he cares about. Despite his lack of life or sexual experience, Andrew finds he can’t resist Rory either. Rory has lived his whole life seeking revenge against Maarten. But now that he has fallen in love with Andrew, he can’t imagine sending him to risk his life with the dangerous man. Yet Maarten is still out there and the list of the victims of his violence and treachery continues to grow. The men must figure out if they can stop him without destroying their own lives and chance at happiness.
The Red King was such a wonderful, sweepingly epic story and I was captivated from the very start. The book takes us on a journey where the quest for revenge twists and turns into a tale of two unlikely men who find love with each other and courage to face their own fears. O’Malley creates such a fascinating world of pirates who rule the seas. We meet pure innocent souls and men with evil in their hearts. And every time I thought I knew how the story would unfold, it took another turn that kept me eagerly reading to see where the journey would go.
O’Malley has created two such wonderful characters in Rory and Andrew. When we meet Rory he is a man living for one thing only – revenge against the man who ruined his life and who continues to harm so many others. Rory managed to survive under circumstances that would have destroyed lesser men, and he commands the respect and admiration of both his crew and the people he protects. He is willing to use Andrew because he needs him. Andrew is just the prize that a man like Maarten would love. And at first Rory can’t let himself care about Andrew’s safety. Yet as he gets to know the man, Rory finds himself falling for him. After closing himself off for so long to anything but the pursuit of his goals, Rory finds himself in love with Andrew and suddenly must rethink everything about his life. I loved watching Rory grow and change here as he learns to open his heart to someone. He struggles, especially early, with letting go of that captain role and allowing Andrew to make decisions for himself. Rory’s instinct is to control and care for him but Andrew is stronger than he seems and becomes a true partner for the bold Rory.
But for me this is really Andrew’s story and his journey from a terrified, innocent man to someone with incredible internal strength and fortitude is amazing to watch over the course of the story. The pirates call him Coinin, or little wolf, for the fierceness inside of him. Andrew refuses to be cowed and pushed aside. He is witty and clever and strong willed and despite his small size he will not be pushed around by anyone. Andrew faces enormous pain, suffering, and heartache during the book, but his strength is incredible. And most amazing is that he retains that goodness, that caring and patience he learned at the hands of the monks that continues to guide him.
The two men together are such an interesting partnership. So different but at the same time working together so well. You guys probably know by now I love a good virgin hero story and O’Malley captures Andrew’s innocence and Rory’s experience so well as the two come together. The sexual tension between them is great and once they get together they are super hot.
I truly enjoyed the epic feel of this story and how it really takes us on a journey. However, my main issue with the book is the length. At 300+ pages I just felt like things really could have been tightened up. The story never bored me and I was eager to see how things would develop. But I think there are times when the energy flags a little. Frequently the book builds to a key moment and then there is a delay as we get just a few more scenes, or another twist that postpones a big event. By the time the book ended I just felt that so much had happened I had a bit of trouble getting my head around it all. Again, I never found the story slow or dull, I just think tightening things up would have helped with the energy. My only other issue is that Maarten is just so evil as to be perhaps over the top. He is cruel, sadistic, and horrifying in every way. I get that he needs to be truly awful so that we can understand Rory’s quest for revenge, but maybe just a tiny bit too far here.
While I am on the subject, I will mention that this story has some pretty intense scenes, both that happen in real time and in memories. There is rape, abuse, and torture that are at times graphically depicted. For me everything worked for this story and nothing felt overdone, but I mention it because I know there are people who are sensitive to this type of content.
Overall this book was such a delightful surprise for me. I felt myself caught up from the very beginning and I loved the journey. Rory and Andrew were such wonderful characters and their love was so strong and beautifully depicted. The side characters are well developed and interesting and the descriptions of life aboard the ship was very well done. This was a lovely sweeping story that has an incredibly sweet and romantic center. I really enjoyed it and would definitely highly recommend The Red King.