For Nick Andrews, village life has become stifling. He is nothing more than an extra mouth to feed and there isn’t much hope of a future mired in the poverty of his childhood home. So, fueled by stories of his father who once went to sea, Nick decides to do the same. Life can’t get any worse, right?
Nick discovers quickly that his position as a cabin boy is far from easy. Storms, seasickness, and starvation seem to dog his every step. Things go from bad to worse when his ship is captured by pirates. Nick is spared, but he is forced to adjust to yet another change in circumstance.
Nick fascinates Captain Christopher Hart, but he has also promised twenty chests of buried treasure to his crew. He just has to find them and if he can’t, he’ll be dealing with a full-scale mutiny. Nick doesn’t much care about lost gold, but he does care about Christopher and doing so might get him killed. With death, violence, and desperation surrounding them on all sides, Christopher and Nick must decide if their love is worth the risk.
I love me some pirates. I’m not sure why given their propensity for lawlessness and parrot puns, but they’ve been a fascination for me since childhood. So I was definitely looking forward to Astray. In some ways, it’s an excellent book and in others, it’s a bit of a train wreck. Let’s start with the strong points, shall we? Astray does a wonderful job stripping away the romance of life at sea. Nick’s struggles are portrayed realistically and his misery is palpable. He is a man without options though and his resiliency is part of what makes his character interesting. It’s hard to grasp the emotions of both Nick and Christopher. They seem like automatons at times and more flesh and blood at others. So while they’re both intriguing characters, they aren’t always relatable. This has a negative effect on their romance as well. It never makes much sense why Christopher and Nick are together or how they came to love one another. It just sort of happens and as readers we’re expected to accept it.
The story of Astray, which represents the first in a series, is relatively developed and the basic structure is strong. The hunt for buried treasure and a missing map is somewhat passé, but it’s a dependable trope if nothing else. The pacing is problematic, however. Astray flows exceptionally well during its first and last quarters. But the middle half is laggy and overly burdened with extraneous activity. There’s a lot of going back and forth to bars and wandering beaches. Whole sections of Astray could have been removed without affecting the wider narrative.
Historically Astray is a hit and miss. It does a good job of establishing a strong sense of time and place and giving a piratical flare to the story. But it also dredges up the historically suspect practice of matelotage. That it existed is fact, but what it meant is up for a lot of debate and I think m/m authors tend to use it excessively where pirates are concerned. That’s certainly the case here. Also somewhat problematic is this pirate crew’s excessive use of violence. There are always exceptions, but a lot of pirates eschewed mass killings. Christopher Hart’s crew slaughters everyone they meet. And we really don’t know why. A lot of it seemed blamed on his second in command and Hart tends to reject responsibility for this. So Astray carries a lot of violence that doesn’t always have purpose and that tends to annoy me.
Astray ends on a cliffhanger, so beware. It certainly has me curious what happens next. It’s a pretty mixed bag of good and bad, but it does have enough entertainment value to make it worth the read for those of you who enjoy a bit of piratical business.