Alex is on his trading ship when they are ambushed by pirates. Alex valiantly offers his life in exchange for his crew. That’s how he ends up on Yemaja, the pirate ship run by the former slave, Beche. As Alex starts to learn how to live onboard a pirate ship, he starts to form a powerful emotional bond with Beche, one of respect and desire. But when Beche is caught by the authorities, threatened by a hanging, it takes the combined forces of the pirates and Alex’s progressive sisters to get Beche free.
This tale surprised me, leading me down the garden path into fascinating unknowns. This is no simple sex romp between a nobleman and a pirate, but a mesmerizing steampunk pirate story that challenges the way you view humanity, sexuality, and the world at large.
Alex has an inner duality, shy and silent, and yet willful and opinionated. His father put him through hell when he learned of Alex’s homosexuality. Because of it, he is innocent about a lot of things. But with Beche at his side, challenging him at every step, Alex learns to be brave and to take his first steps into the real world as the man he was always meant to be.
Beche is simpler in many ways, yet way more complex. A former slave who fought for his freedom from brutal hardships, he’s learned to get respect by being a feared pirate. Alex shows him a different course without meaning to. Beche believes that Alex has a woman’s soul in a man’s body, subsequently explaining and justifying his own growing feelings for Alex.
Most of this book is dialogue and long conversations about humanity, sexual identity, ethics, honor, etc. This becomes almost a social study of this fictional, historical steampunk world. This is also a sweet romance, rather than erotica. There are only a few sex scenes, with no anal sex or penetration. I was expecting more sensuality and sex. But mostly the plot is fraught with action and adventure when Beche is apprehended and the plans the others devise to get him free.
The side characters all have fully fleshed out personalities. Alex’s sister, Philla, is a warrior spirit, ahead of her time, able to do all the activities a man could, but not given the chance to do so without disguising herself as a man. Alex’s younger sister, Aster, is an inventor, frail but a genius, who is not taken seriously by anyone, though she is much more intelligent than most men. Of the pirates, inventor Fabrice and Beche’s right-hand man Manuel are depicted as hard-boiled men who’ve gone through terrible times but retained their humanity with brotherly bond and a cynical sense of humor.
While I personally hoped for greater sensuality in Beche and Alex’s relationship, the strength of the story came from the respect and trust that built between the two men. The ending can be seen as either hopeful or doomed to fail, but that’s subjective. I for one wish there are more tales to come in this well-crafted world as this one surely doesn’t disappoint.