The Duke & The Pirate Queen
by Victoria Janssen, historical/fantasy (2010)
Spice, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-373-60550-7
The Duke & The Pirate Queen is a loose sequel to Victoria Janssen's The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover. It's a loose sequel in the sense that the hero of this book, Duke Maxime, first showed up in that book as Lord Maxime, one of the players in the sexual musical chair game of that book. The plot of this one stands alone, but with the appearance of a few characters from the previous book, I don't think it will hurt too much if you read the previous book first before tackling this one.
Set in a fantasy setting with historical flavors - the folks here use ships to travel the seas and trade is still being established between newly discovered lands, that kind of thing - this one is about Duke Maxime and his employee, the privateer Captain Imena Leung. Yes, the heroine is the captain of a crew of privateers. In fact, the tattoos are just the start - she also keeps her head clean shaven, heh. Appearance-wise, Imena is definitely a heroine who stands out from the crowd. In this one, Imena and Maxime share an attraction to each other. Maxime is more than happy to marry her, but Imena has always kept a distance between them due to her belief that she, of mixed race and therefore a second class citizen in her homeland, and Maxime, a Duke, have too many disparities in terms of social class and more to have a happily ever after.
When the story opens, Imena and Maxime finally consummated their attraction although they don't exactly go all the way to the finish line, but Maxime is frustrated when Imena doesn't jump in joy subsequently and accept his marriage proposal. Still, fate will intervene when Imena overhears what seems like a plot to assassinate Maxime while she is in a bar and quickly orchestrates the kidnapping of Maxime onto her ship, The Seaflower. Meanwhile, Sylvie, our interpid naughty maid who also first showed up in the previous book, plays a role in helping Imena and Camille, Maxime's ex-lover and the heroine of the previous book, get to the bottom of the plot against Maxime. Naturally, she goes about doing things in her typically saucy and X-rated manner.
If you are anything like me when it comes to romance heroines, then yes, let me reassure you that Imena can walk the walk as well as she talks the talk. While she is not exactly Xena on steroids, she convincingly displays the authority and steel that allows her to actually lead a crew of hardened privateers. Indeed, I like the fact that the crew actually seems like a believable bunch of disciplined cutthroats. There are no matchmaking first mates, happy little cabin boys to be mothered by our heroine, or sailors who refuse to swear because their mothers told them not to. Here, Imena gets down and bloody with the rest of them. She is not naïvé or blind to the savagery of her vocation, and no, she doesn't squeal at the sight of blood or insist that everything can be solved by a group hug. She can be playful when the mood strikes her, but she will not hesitate to skewer a villain and feed him to the sharks if she has to.
Maxime is the beta hero to Imena's alpha character, come to think of it. He doesn't attempt to usurp her authority, which bodes well for a happily ever after for these two, while she treats him with a measure of respect as long as he doesn't try to get in her way when it comes to serious privateer business. These two have plenty of sexual chemistry and their love scenes are steamy indeed.
But I have to warn you folks, it is better to read this story as an erotica first and foremost instead of a romance novel. I feel this is necessary because Maxime is a bisexual benchwarmer who is as easy as ABC - there are moments when he displays a carefree easy-going attitude towards sex with other characters when he's already stated his love for Imena, moments which may disconcert or even unnerve readers who are expecting him to follow the code of conduct for romance heroes. Maxime is more in line with a typical character in an erotica who may be in love with someone but he may not resist too hard against the opportunity to find sexual succor with another person. Imena, despite having had lovers in the past, is a more conventional romance heroine in that her only sexual encounters in this book is with Maxime. Therefore, when it comes to the romance, adjust your expectations a little bit. As for me, I am expecting an erotica with romantic elements - there is plenty of fluid sexuality among many characters here, and, of course, there is Sylvie - so I am not caught off-guard by the elements in this story that may be considered as having deviated too far from the rules of the romance genre.
Personally, I wish the author has paired Imena with someone else, as Maxime is too adorably slutty a character to be tied down to a single person. He's more appropriate to be the hero of the Confessions of a Lusty Nobleman kind of story - he's a male version of Sylvie, in other words, too gloriously and unrepentantly sexual to be restricted to a single person for a happily ever after. I do like Imena as a character, mind you, but she seems like a more conventional tough heroine who deserves a more conventional beau.
If there is one problem with this story, it's the plot. There are some exciting seafaring adventures involving pirates and hungry sharks, but the reason for Imena to kidnap Maxime is a bit too... impulsive, let's just say, for a woman of her character. Even Imena admits that to Maxime at one point in this story. The author could have spent some time to build up a solid case for Imena's action. Kidnapping a guy after overhearing snippets of a conversation is almost farcical, and this story is not a farce. Also, when the plot against Maxime is uncovered, my reaction is more of a "Wait, is that it?" shrug. The payoff is disappointing. And while I appreciate Sylvie's subplot because it gives me some enjoyable insight into this previously rather one-dimensional character, some readers may be frustrated by the resolution of her subplot. Again, I am going to point out that this story is best read as an erotica with romantic elements instead of a romance novel.
Anyway, I have a pleasantly enjoyable time reading The Duke & The Pirate Queen. I think if you don't mind a romantic story that breaks some rules here and there, and you'd love to book a ticket for an erotic and action-packed vicarious adventure to the high seas, this one may be worth a look. The plot could be better, but all things considered, this one is alright with me.
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