I love a good swashbuckler story. They’re like westerns, only wet. It’s all dashing tales of derring-do where wrongs are set right and scrappy loudmouths make their fortunes and look good doing it. I love the action and the attitude of swashbucklers, and The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of Original Sin has both of these things in abundance.
When her father, the captain of the pirate ship Original Sin, is shot in the chest during an attack by the Royal Navy, Gayle Malvern desperately needs a surgeon. When she finds out that theirs was killed in the raid that injured her father, she has no choice but to send some men to shore to scare up a new one. Unfortunately for them, the town’s doctor was not available and Celia Pierce, his seamstress fiance, would have to do for now.
Celia is shocked at her abduction at first, but quickly adjusts to the situation. After helping the oddly attractive pirate sew up wounds, she wonders if maybe this is the grand adventure she’s always wished for. Lord knows she wasn’t looking forward to her impending marriage to the doctor who hid and left her for the pirates. Why not enjoy a last fling?
And what a fling it is! There's a gypsy's fortune, a daring rescue, a hurricane, a betrayal and, of course, plenty of romance. Couple the non-stop action with a playful and sometimes cocky attitude, and it's about all you can ask for from a pirate romance.
The book quite literally opens with a bang when a Royal Navy sailor squeezes the trigger on his gun shortly before a pirate runs him through with a cutlass, which tells you right away that this pirate story pulls few punches. These pirates may be the good guys, but they aren’t afraid to cut some throats when the situation arises.
“Don’t make a mistake you’ll regret, Captain,” Gayle warned. “It may prove fatal.”
Santiago laughed and continued toward her. “You have spirit,” he announced. “I will truly enjoy fucking it out of you.” Gayle’s eyes flashed, but she didn’t move. When Santiago reached her, he scrutinized her, scratching his patchy dark beard. “How long do you think it will take me to make you cry and beg for mercy, eh?”
Her chin came up defiantly. “Longer than you’ve got on this earth.”
He laughed again and captured her left wrist. “Would you like to wager on that, bribona?” he goaded her, his face very close to hers. He tilted his head to menacingly sniff her hair.
“Aye, I would,” she growled. Before Celia was even fully aware of what she was watching, Gayle had pulled out a dagger and jammed it hilt-deep through Santiago’s chin and up through the roof of his mouth. The Spaniard’s eyes grew glassy as Celia watched the life leave them. Gayle removed the blade from his head as his body fell away from her, and his blood seeped slowly onto the deck. “I win,” she whispered.
Anyone who isn't comfortable with violence and extrajudicial killing might want to give this one a pass. While most of the dead were indisputably bad seeds, the violence in the book is graphic and fairly frequent. I did flinch a few times at the cold-blooded killing, even though it generally made sense in context.
I did appreciate, however, that the narrative interrogated the use of violence somewhat.
Celia shook her head and stood without aid. Rigid and in shock, she wrung her hands nervously. “How could you have done this?” she whispered. “How could you have slaughtered all these men?”
“These men who were ready to take turns raping us?” Gayle snapped, panting.
“You didn’t know that before they boarded us.”
“Oh, I know Santiago. I’ve spoken to the survivors left in his murderous wake. I’ve seen the scars on the wenches he has helped himself to, and I’ve waited for the day I could kill him.”
Celia watched the dark expressions flash across Gayle’s face as she spoke. This was a new side of her, and Celia felt frightened—the most frightened she had been since she arrived on board.
Even if this doesn’t make the violence completely justified or less disturbing, I liked that it wasn’t completely celebrated either. So often in romance a hero’s violent acts are held up as evidence of his manliness and as evidence of the depth of his devotion to the heroine. To see Celia repulsed by and afraid of Gayle’s violent actions was refreshing and, I thought, more believable.
Despite all this, the tone of the book is light and fun for the most part. A few of the side characters like James the doctor, Molly the pirate and Anne the kidnapped “whore,” provide lots of comic relief as the Original Sin sails from adventure to adventure.
Additionally, the romantic conflict is low on angst and high on playful banter.
“You are by far the most agreeable hostage I’ve ever taken.”
“And you are a very pleasant captor. This is hardly the sea trip I had dreamt of, but I do appreciate the fact that you’ve kept me safe. You hear such terrible stories about pirates.”
“Most aren’t true, but we are a despicable lot. Don’t be fooled into thinking we aren’t.”
Celia stopped and cocked her head to the side. “And do you ravish young women? Should I be on my guard with you?”
“That is one thing I will not steal, madam,” she said in a low, husky voice. “I only take what is freely offered.”
Celia and Gayle establish their attraction pretty early on, but they take a while to act on it. They flirt and they tease and they dare the other to make the first move. Gayle may be the hardened pirate with a reputation for wenching, but Celia is no ingenue. When they finally hook up, it's Celia who is the aggressor, and it was totally charming. However, for all the graphic violence, the sex is almost closed-door, which I found odd. Those who are tired of the trend of ever more erotic romance might find this a nice change of pace.
Finally, I have to salute the author for doing her research, even if she did info dump a time or two. Red-headed Gayle seems to be a nod to the real-life pirate Anne Bonny and so did the cross-dressing Molly seem to be a nod to Mary Read. It felt like this book came out of the author's genuine love for and interest in the period. The end result was a rich setting that felt like another character.
Final Assessment: A fun, action-filled pirate romance that hit all my buttons. B+