Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Both Jamie Davis’ parents died while he was still young, leaving him in the care of a squire named Harrington. Jamie helps the squire run an antiquities shop in exchange for room and board. Though Jamie has a roof over his head, the squire is desperately inept when it comes to money. Despite his precariously tight financial situation, squire Harrington is all too willing to offer an old acquaintance named George Conley a place to stay. Unbeknownst to Jamie, Conley possesses the map to an infamous pirate captain’s buried treasure. That map doesn’t stay secret for long, however. Conley’s former associates catch up with him, marking Conley for a dead man with the “black spot.“ Desperate for the map to stay out of pirate hands, Conley entrusts it to Jamie. Soon thereafter, a horrific “accident” befalls Conley, leaving the man very much dead and the squire’s antiquities shop in a shambles. But there is hope, for Jamie has the map and the squire has a dream of retrieving that treasure.

To redeem the buried riches, Harrington hires a ship to take him, Jamie, and a trusted companion to the treasure island. The Moray is a fine ship captained by Miles Ambrose, a younger man who seems as confident as he is attractive. Jamie is excited not only for his first trip to sea, but perhaps adventures in the bedroom with Captain Ambrose as well. During the journey, Jamie apprentices with the ship’s cook, a weathered man named Silas. Silas has a formidable appearance, but the more Jamie gets to know him, the more Jamie enjoys Silas’ staunch friendship. Jamie appreciates that Silas only has Jamie’s best interests at heart when he warns Jamie of Captain Ambrose. But Jamie is determined to make the most of every evening he spends in the captain’s bed.

During the journey to the island, everything seems wondrous and new. Upon arriving at the island, however, Jamie quickly learns nothing is as it seems. People he thought he could trust have turned into cold-blooded murderers…and all for the sake of a little treasure. What started as an exciting trip discovering sexual intimacy and adventure on the high seas has turned into a fight for survival and Jamie isn’t sure mere possession of the map is enough to help him win the game.

X Marks the Spot is a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island with an LGBTQ twist. The story is told in an epistolary style and, after Jamie describes what it was like at the start of the journey to the island, he breaks the fourth wall to tell the reader that the outbound trip followed much the same pattern. There is also an explicit mention at the end about this being a written account from Jamie himself. At first, I didn’t think I would like skipping all of what was happening at sea. I kind of thought the story prior to getting on the ship skipped over a lot of details, too. However, that brevity made a lot more sense after realizing this was intended to be a written account. And, when we get to the events that unfold on the island, I was well pleased with the pacing of the story. Overall, I think Barrie does an exceptional job rolling out the story and all the pertinent elements. There’s plenty of detail provided to establish who Jamie is, where he is in the world, and his perspective on the interpersonal relationships he had with the squire, Conley, Ambrose, and Silas. This is all while maintaining sharp focus on the events that were pertinent to what happens on the island.

Jamie’s relationship to this squire is very paternal. He seems to have true affection for his caretaker/boss. I think this relationship was used to great effect during the dramatic events that unfolded when everyone first lands on the island. It showed how deeply attached Jamie was to his caregiver. I also loved the introduction to Ambrose and Silas, as both characters appear in short order after Jamie and the squire decide to go after the treasure. These two men could not have been more dissimilar. Ambrose is a golden boy, slightly older than Jamie, very attractive, well dressed, and a successful ship’s captain with a taste for fine things. Ambrose also immediately showed subtle (but in no uncertain terms) interest towards Jamie. While all this had me anticipating a great love story between Jamie and Ambrose, I am familiar with other adaptions of Treasure Island, so I was excited to follow their story and try to figure out if Ambrose was a dream come true or too good to be true.

Of course, then there was Silas. His body told the story of the extremely dangerous life he’d led. Upon his introduction, it was clear that many people look at Silas with fear and/or disgust. Jamie is not so different, but as he works with Silas in the ship’s galley, more of Silas’ history comes out. There, we learn that Silas could probably be a very good, loyal guy. Silas also explicitly tells Jeannie to be careful around Captain Ambrose. I really liked how this set up a potential conflict for Jamie’s affections. Would his heart fall for the shiny bubble, or go for the diamond in the rough? I loved the anticipation of a potential unrequited love theme and the giant conundrum within Jamie regarding where his feelings lie both in terms of romantic feelings and sexual desire.

The ending of this book felt very appropriate for the length of the story, and well suited to giving the reader closure as to what happened with Jamie and the others after the events on the island. The “after” events are written in very broad strokes that match the near summarized version of events that lead up to Jamie being under the squire’s care in the first place. Though short on specific details, I thought the end gave a satisfying sense of closure.

If you are looking for a dramatic, queer retelling of Treasure Island, I highly recommend picking up this book. I really loved the way the author explores love, desire, and attraction through Jamie and the people he meets on this quest for treasure. If that sounds like fun to you, and if you love the treasure island stories or swashbuckling historical fiction pieces, I think you’ll really enjoy this book.