Gael has wanted to be a doctor ever since an accident killed his younger brother and the family watched, helpless, for three long days and nights as the healers were unable to save him. According to his father, however, being a doctor isn’t the proper path for a gentleman to take, especially for a young gentleman who happens to be the favored and beloved nephew of the Queen of the Andalouan court. Fortunately, as Queen Amata’s pet, Gael has been allowed the chance to study medicine, which will make for a wonderful cover identity when his aunt sends him on a covert mission.
Pirates have been raiding the oceans for years, but lately, their efforts have increased and the slave ships have been more numerous. With only a modest navy, Andalouan can barely keep its coast safe from predation, but even that is no longer enough. Amanta wants Gael to find a likely pirate — someone clean, noble, clever, and smart — who will be willing to join her navy and teach her captains how to take down pirates.
When Gael’s ship is attacked by pirates, he witnesses first hand how horrible their attacks can be. He sees men die, including the captain of the little merchant ship he tried so desperately to save, and Gael is sold into slavery in Beyas’kahl. For some reason, the same pirate who captured his ship — the tall, dangerous elvarr who kills like a demon and looks like an angel — rescues Gael, buying him for an exorbitant amount. As he gets to know the elvarr pirate and the crew, Gael realizes that he’s found the perfect man for the job.
This is a genteel, romanticized version of pirates and pirate ships. Gael gets to see the blood and injuries of pirate attacks, and he suffers the lack of privacy that can only come from being on a ship of two hundred people, but he (and we) are spared the unpleasant parts of the story. There’s no mention of foul food or rough seas or even much detail about the life of a pirate. Gael is an optimist and we get to see the story through his rose-tinted glasses.
Gael became a doctor more out of interest in how things worked than any altruism or desire to heal the masses, though he does like taking care of people. He’s all youthful enthusiasm, innocence, and simplicity — not that he’s simple-minded; it’s just that, for Gael, there’s black and white, and no shades of grey. He likes people, and when they like him back he’s delighted. He makes friends easily and doesn’t suffer any privations or trauma. Instead, he suffers his first crush, and his first love.
Rikko’ is an elvarr, a member of a long-lived race who has direct ties to the Andalouan court (the queen’s sister married an elvarr noble) but who, himself, has no family other than the pirates on his ship. He’s charming, charismatic, and more than a little smitten by Gael. It’s not just the boy’s beauty — though there’s a lot of that — it’s the way Gale throws himself wholeheartedly into everything. Gael may not know how to flirt, being raised in a repressed country where male relationships are frowned upon, but that doesn’t stop him from fully (if clumsily) embracing Rikko’ once Rikko’ makes it clear he’s interested.
At first, their relationship seems so very unbalanced. Gael is Rikko’s slave, not that he treats him like one, and the difference in their emotional age and even physical age (19 vs. 30s) keeps Gael forever in the lesser position. As the story goes on it becomes clear that Gael isn’t going to be just a toy or a pet; he’s more than willing to be Rikko’s friend as well as his lover. While in another book I might not be as complacent about Gael’s readiness to throw everything aside for the love of the man who gave him his first real kiss and took his virginity, but the enthusiasm fits with Gael’s personality and the sweetness of it fits the book and the world.
This is a romance story in the truest sense. While there are action and politics, it all serves to test and strengthen the relationship between Gael and Rikko’. I do think that the epilogue felt more like a summary of a sequel rather than a coda to the adventures, which I regret. I would have liked to have seen that book and the further adventures of Gael and Rikko’. Instead, I’ll simply go find more of this author’s books.