Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance
Jon has lived a sad, lonely, and sheltered life. With both parents dead, Jon was raised by his stern, indifferent stepfather. Jon is sickly and suffers from migraines, but it’s his empathic abilities that help determine the guilt or innocence of the prisoners locked up in the castle’s dungeon that keeps his stepfather interested. When Jon is sent to help discover who is responsible for a murder at the local brothel, Jon is kidnapped by the pirate Baltsaros, and his first mate, Tom, who were made aware of Jon’s empathic talents. Waking up in a cage, Jon is confused and completely out of his element, but must adapt quickly. Baltsaros provides Jon medicine, offers him a spot with the crew, and although Jon knows he has little choice, he sees this as a fresh start.
Jon has not had much human contact at all and he struggles to come to terms with the sexual relationship between Baltsaros and Tom and further struggles to understand his own arousal and desire for both of them. As the men spend more time together and Baltsaros becomes increasingly possessive over Jon, Tom’s jealously becomes uncontrollable.
A desire to keep Baltsaros all to himself has Tom setting an avalanche of events in motion, many of which Tom never saw coming. Baltsaros and Tom are murderous, ruthless, lying men that are all too familiar with the harsh realities of life. Their paths have been complex and turbulent, but Jon realizes quickly they are more than what they seem.
A story about darkness and damaged men, mixed with a touch of light and hope. A story about pain that hurts and pain that frees. A story of love and revelation between ruthless men that become so bound together that it’s inevitable that three will become one.
When I first started this book, the only thing I knew about it was what was written in the published blurb. Sometimes it is not possible to filter out everything written about a book before I start it, but I had no preconceived ideas here. I was expecting a plot driven novel about the exploits of pirates, so it then took me a few pages to get into the flow of the book, because Caged is a character driven story of three different and complicated men, and isn’t that just a whole lot of awesome right there.
I have to start by calling attention to the writing itself. It’s exceptional. When I take a break from reading and have to take a moment to get reacquainted with my surroundings, it’s just not possible to be pulled any more into a story. The use of words landing in the exact perfect place, the small intricate details woven together, and the flow of moving from one page to the next, perfectly illustrates Deckard’s talent.
The story is set in a historical period, but does not focus or dwell on a lot of historical details. The well researched details are in the scenes themselves that slowly sneak up on you to give you a full picture of where you are. It’s the description of the laces and the material of the men’s pants, their boots, the type of shirt (or lack of shirt) they are wearing, the color of the bedding, the placement of items in a room, the detail on a window, and then all of a sudden Baltsaros walks into his quarters and you can picture him and what his room looks like without having been given a list and an information overload of details. That is an art form.
So I don’t want to tell you anything more about this book because I want you to experience it all for yourself, but I will tell you these things:
Caged is the story of three men, but it could almost be the story of one man that has been split into three as Baltsaros, Jon, and Tom, slowly begin to fill in the cracks in each other and bind themselves together. They live in their own pirate world and follow their own rules. They are not specifically looking for trouble, but if you mess with one of them then they truly have each other’s back in what could be a whole blazing manner. And when love and lust and jealousy and want and need and safety and home crash together and become compromised, they will do whatever is necessary because that’s all they know.
Told from Jon’s and Baltsaros’ perspectives, the story deals with cages that the characters find themselves in whether they realize it or not. The physical cage that Jon finds himself in, then the cage of fear, guilt, shame, and uncertainty, and the cage around the heart to protect itself at all costs.
We see Jon change and grow dramatically during the course of the story. Although he has been sheltered, he stands up for himself as he begins a relationship with Baltsaros, does not allow himself to become just a plaything, and demands equality for himself, even when his captor is ultimately his seducer. It excites him that Baltsaros steps up for him in ways no one else ever has. Jon’s empathic abilities allow him to better understand Baltsaros and Tom and he feels how damaged they are, more than they even know themselves.
Baltsaros at first glance is a ruthless pirate captain. He has played the hand that life has dealt him the best way he knows how. He is dark, certainly not one to show emotion, and is shocked at the feelings Jon brings forth in him. There is not a tremendous amount of on page violence and the sex is way more frequent and way more explicit than the violence. The men use sex as a form of communication to equally strengthen and soften their character. Baltsaros is written in a manner that his violent actions did not bother me so much; he’s a pirate captain after all, protecting what’s his, not my neighbor. He has the need for control in all aspects of his life and it takes him a bit to try to embrace the fact that he finds the need to cherish Jon and, in attempting to possess Jon, he himself had become totally ensnared.
Tom we only really see from the perspective of Jon and Baltsaros. We learn Tom’s background and are quickly brought up to speed on his sexual relationship with Baltsaros. Their relationship is one of dominance and pain as Baltsaros likes to inflict pain and Tom likes to receive it. There is nothing here resembling rules and safe words and Tom will keep taking whatever Baltsaros hits him with (literally and figuratively). Tom is dangerous, he’s a murderer, he barks out orders to the crew, and he is sexually submissive. He does not have a filter and although he is constantly startling Jon with his comments, they are tempered with a wink. Tom is a contradiction in many ways and when he uses words in casual conversation such as, “lovey,” “poppet,” and “dove,” it’s these contradictions that give the character warmth and the story further depth.
There could certainly be a case made for all three men about no matter where they go in life the traumas of childhood still follow. But, ultimately it’s a story of three broken boys who became better at hiding they were broken men. Men that are still seeking love and acceptance and nothing shows that more then Jon’s inner glow when Baltsaros tell him, “good boy.”
There is really nothing to find issue with in this book at all, but just a few observations. Jon is captured for his empathic abilities to be used for pirate dealings. There is one scene that is well played and illuminates what Jon is capable of. His abilities then take a back seat in business dealings and we see him use them to interpret the feelings of other characters. This really worked to help Jon understand Baltsaros and Tom more as they certainly weren’t walking around the ship talking about their feelings and the way Jon is able to internalize the men is beautifully written to be lyrical and poetic at times. I also would have liked to have seen a further exploration of his empathic abilities used for the reason he was kidnapped for in the first place as it was incredibly intriguing. There is a question that Jon asks Baltsaros that is answered, (you just don’t want me to tell you what the question is) but it begged for a follow up question. The story line seems to have moved on from that and I don’t know if it will come back to it in the sequel, but I was looking for that answer. Jon and Tom. I was missing out on a conversation with them. They tried, but then used scorchingly hot sex in place of talking (which Tom even jokes about). While not a hardship at all to read that scene (see above reference to scorchingly hot), Tom is the catalyst that sets so much in motion and just a few more words between them would have centered the forgiveness that was offered. The book will also be edited again to address minor typos and so we move on from there.
Baltsaros, Jon, and Tom are fascinating men, but since they live inside Deckard, perhaps he is ultimately the most fascinating one of all, and he has crafted a captivating debut novel. Word on the street, okay, word on Deckard’s website, is that the sequel will be published in a few months, and if he keeps writing, I will certainly (absolutely-without a doubt-most definitely) keep reading. As an added bonus, Deckard has put together a sound track to accompany the novel that you can listen to on his blog. So when my words don’t do his words justice, you can go directly to the source and read Caged: Love and Treachery on the High Seas. It’s really (really) one of the best books out there right now.
Cover: Be sure to gaze upon the cover. Deckard, also an artist, designed it himself.