Back when I was much much younger I used to have a thing for pirate romance novels. The covers usually featured buxom women falling out of their clothes, while a swarthy gent (who was also in danger of losing his clothes) towered over her wearing an expression of painful-looking passion. *sigh* Those were the days. I lost my taste for them as I grew older. I think it might have had something to do with all the raping and pillaging. Or maybe I just read too many of them? Nope – there really was an awful lot of raping and pillaging going on in those novels.
When I read the blurb for Ten Ruby Trick by Julia Knight and got an eyeful of the beautiful cover I knew I had to read it. I’d been looking for an updated version of the old skool pirate romance novel and I thought I might have found it.
Privateer Van Gast thrills in capturing treasure; delights in pulling off elaborate scams; and has an outrageous reputation with the ladies. But there is only one woman for him: fellow privateer Josie—seductive, brave and unpredictable. He’s hoping to make their relationship permanent, until he raids the wrong ship. Now slavers are stalking him, his crew is verging on mutiny and Josie has disappeared.
When she reappears with a new mark wanting Van Gast’s help running the ten ruby trick con, he senses trouble. It seems like Josie has joined up with mage-bound slavers to turn him over to their Master. Van Gast is about to take the biggest risk of all—and find out the true meaning of trust and betrayal.
I wanted a tale of derring-do on the high seas with a romance between equals. I got that. And so much more.
The story was much darker than I thought it would be. The fantasy setting (which I somehow managed to miss in the blurb) was richly imagined with a multitude of detail that made the world come alive. The villain is a powerful mage who derives his power from the crystals that encrust him and he is as beautifully evil as he is beautifully described. The pairing of Josie and Van Gast was exactly what I was looking for. They are both talented racketeers, in love, and on the verge of making a commitment to each other when the dastardly plot strikes. There is a good-sized cast of nicely drawn minor characters and the author pulls everything together with skill and welcome doses of bawdy humor.
But most of all, I enjoyed the character of Holden. He lives to serve his Master and has been tasked with the capture of Van Gast. He has no choice, being bound to his evil overlord by dark magic. The struggle between chained loyalty to his lord and the flailings of what is left of his own free will and conscience was, to my mind, the very best part of this story. Anti-heroes in search of redemption — I love them! Holden’s struggle is the glue that ties all the characters and plot together. As he struggles between his bond to his Master and what he knows is right, Josie and Van Gast fight for their love and for each other. The result is a darker, more nuanced and more complicated book than I ever thought I was going to get. And that makes me so very happy.
The publisher is Carina Press.