Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pirates of the Narrow Seas Reviewed by Elisa Rolle

Warning: Link Not Safe For Work

Elisa Rolle is a reviewer of m/m romances who reviewed Pirates of the Narrow Seas at her blog. Not surprisingly, she focussed her attention on the romantic aspects of the novel. That's fine, since her intended audience is readers of gay romances. A reviewer's duty is to meet the needs of her audience, describing a work sufficiently that they can determine if it is the sort of thing that will interest them. Given that it is a work of nautical fiction that happens to have a gay relationship in it, it probably will not satisfy most of her readers who are looking for a gay romance that happens to have ships in it. Although the review does not do justice to the novel, it does do justice to her readers.

With that caveat, she was quite astute in her reading of the major characters, Thorton and Tangle. For example, she (correctly) surmised from Thorton's inhibited behavior that something very bad happened to him in the past when he was a young man fresh in naval service. I don't reveal the details in book one, but they will come out in book two: Pirates of the Narrow Seas 2 : Men of Honor. She also described Thorton as a kind soul who will forgive everyone and everything, which is also very true. She doesn't see him as a captain, something Thorton himself has some doubts about. He does stick very much by the book. He is not 'heroic' in the conventional sense. He is a man of conviction and compassion with the courage to stick by both, although she did not put it quite that way.

She also described Captain Tangle as the wrong man to be Thorton's lover, seeing him as more of a pater familias. Very few readers have described Tangle as paternal or patriarchal, but he is very much so, and deliberately so. He is an old-fashioned patriarch: a man who is mature but still virile, concerned about, even paternalistic to those under him.

She correctly identifies Tangle as being too much for Thorton to handle in a romantic relationship, and describes him as being in Tangle's shadow, which is also the case. That issue is tackled in book two, Pirates of the Narrow Seas : Men of Honor. Unfortunately, she doesn't mention that Thorton jilts Tangle and doesn't stay with him at the end. I do think that's important about their relationship.

Regarding her reading of the characters, I was fascinated to see (like almost all my readers), she regards Lt. Roger Perry as a 'good guy,' in spite of him being a racist bastard who throws his best friend under the bus. Only Sage Whistler caught the racial/ethnic subtext and its significance, even though Perry gives a speech deriding Tangle for the color of his skin (he's dark). This matters. In PoNS 2, it matters a lot. I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil it for the reader who hasn't read Men of Honor yet.

Given her careful reading of the characters, I was a little disappointed that she was not equally careful in reading the text. In particular, she mentions historical accuracy, completely missing the point that it is not, in fact, a historical novel, but is instead a period novel. The difference is key: a historical novel weaves its story into the facts of history, which I did not do. On the contrary, I wrote a period novel in which I attempted to capture the flavor of the period.

As stated in the afterward, I freely invented people, places, and events to serve the purpose of the story. She made particular reference to the Sallee Republic, even going so far as to look it up in history books (and kudos to her for doing so), but she missed the explanation located right there in the book:

"Eel Buff doesn't exist and neither does the Sallee Republic. Although Eel Buff is a complete invention, the Sallee Republic of the novel is loosely derived from the real Republic of Salé."

I suppose most people do not read afterwords (although I always do), but it does seem incumbent upon a reviewer to detect what the author has attempted and to evaluate whether he has achieved his goal. Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to deduce what the author is about, but I think I made it pretty plain in the afterward.


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