The Rebel Pirate
The Rebel Pirate is old school. Not in the flowery bodice-ripper sense, but in the lush, dramatic, action adventure sense. It’s full of twists and turns, and there is always – always – something going on. Though it isn’t a perfect read, I really enjoyed it.
Sarah Ward is the daughter of a famous pirate who had hopes for a more settled life. But when her family fortunes take a turn for the worse, her fiance sleeps with her and then dumps her. He then follows up by marrying her best friend and letting Sarah know that he still considers her perfect mistress material. Fate takes a hand when she meets Captain James Sparhawk while trying to spirit cargo and gold through British lines. (The book opens with a terrific line, by the way: ”The gold was Spanish, the chest was French, the ship was American, and the captain was dead.”)
After Sparhawk boards Sarah’s ship and takes the gold, he tries to impress her younger brother into the British navy as well. That is when Sarah (disguised as a man but fooling almost no one) whips out a pistol and takes Sparhawk prisoner instead. After some quick verbal sparring and sort-of-getting-to-know-each-other, Sparhawk helps secure a sail during a storm and breaks his arm while doing that and saving Sarah’s brother. At this point, Sarah is basically on Sparhawk’s side and wants to help him set his arm, recover, and get safely back to his people.
I think it’s at this point (though so much happens that it is hard to say for sure) that Sparhawk reveals his true identity. He is actually the son of a baron, a man who married young and inherited the barony later – and then married again and tried to kill his legitimate wife and son. Sparhawk wants to reclaim his identity and is assembling the necessary proof so he can confront his father. This is also the reason that he offers Sarah his protection and a position as his mistress, but doesn’t offer her matrimony; what he’s doing is dangerous, and he doesn’t want to place her under fire.
So far we have:
- heroine dressed (briefly) as a man, trying to redeem her family fortunes.
- hero who isn’t who he says he is
- loyalties, loyalties everywhere!
- storms, injuries, and kidnappings
- two mistress offers for Sarah
The plot does not get any less involved from there, because we have:
- more loyalty switching, from basically everyone
- an ex-pirate father who suffers from debilitating rheumatism
- an intriguing woman who works for the rebel cause and is known as The Black Widow
- a gay brother who has an intimate relationship with a sea captain/royal by-blow
- constant reversals of fortune and attempts on lives
Meanwhile, Sparhawk-not-actually-Sparhawk and Sarah fall in love with each other. How do they have time, you might wonder? Well, actually, this was the only real flaw in the book. I didn’t think they had time, and I wasn’t quite sure that it was more than lust, or that they knew each other well enough to really know they were in love.
On the other hand, I found so much to like. The setting was a huge draw for me. I’ve always been a fan of Colonial and Revolutionary War settings, and Thorland executes hers flawlessly. I’ve never read a book that nailed the conflicted loyalties of the time better. Most make it seem so cut and dried: You are either a loyalist or patriot/rebel, the end. Thorland, on the other hand, brings all of the nuances into the picture. Family loyalties, business interests, ulterior motives. I particularly liked the Black Widow, who is motivated by patriotism but aids the opposite side to serve her own cause when she feels it makes sense. And Sparhawk and Sarah both have to think about what they really believe and what makes the most sense.
All of this introspection has to occur on the fly, because no one in this book has time to sit around much (well, except maybe when they are in jail, which both main characters are at different points). There is always an urgent errand, someone to be saved, warned, or outwitted. And they are always hopping out of the frying pan into the fire. Have you been bored lately with plots that go nowhere? Well, that is definitely not a problem here.
The book is actually second in the series that started with The Turncoat, which I haven’t read but would like to. I had no trouble jumping in with The Rebel Pirate, however. There was no feeling lost and wondering what the hell was happening, and no annoying info dumping either. It definitely stands alone.
I’d recommend The Rebel Pirate to anyone who likes their romance heavy on the action and adventure, anyone looking for high-stakes conflict, and anyone who looking for an historical you can really sink your teeth into.