Review: Galleons and Gangplanks by Sean Michael, Julia Talbot, Mychael Black and Willa Okati

Pirates! Rapiers! Cannons and flintlocks! These are all the idea behind Galleons and Gangplanks. Bringing back the days when pirates ruled the high seas, this collection of stories has no shortage of adventure, danger, and excitement. From Sean Michael comes Searching the Seas, a story about an honest man kidnapped by pirates, used as collateral for a trade between the pirates and the seaside village at their mercy. Things are not always as they seem, though, and soon the constable and the pirate Captain are learning to love, and live, with the past and the future. Julia Talbot’s The White City takes on the Barbary Coast, with a legendary privateer meeting his match in an Algerian sheik. But who is the captor and who is the slave in this game of cat and mouse that runs from the sun baked streets of Algiers to the waves beyond the shore? Mychael Black’s Fool’s Gold is a romp in the best pirate tradition. Searching for his father’s lost gold, a young man teams up with a salty veteran to follow a treasure map. Can the two of them find something in common besides a lust for coin? In Willa Okati’s Of Boats and Bluebeards two young men are pressed into service on a pirate ship, one of them slated to be the Captain’s new toy, the other set to backbreaking work. Can Kit and Paul find a way to escape, and to share the budding love they find with each other? Get your arrr! on!

Review by Alex Beecroft

Like most anthologies, this is a mixed bag of stories, some of which are in my opinion better than others. I think I’ll consider them separately before I think about the book over all.

Unfortunately, the first story in the anthology, “Searching the Seas” by Sean Michael is, I think, the weakest of the four. Abraham Sawyer is “a lawman” (whatever that means in the 17th/18th century, before the invention of the police), who lives on a small, peaceful island, and is taken aboard a pirate ship as a hostage following some negotiations that didn’t quite make sense to me. There he discovers that the despicable pirate is in fact his old lover who has been searching for him for years. And then they have lots of sex, and some hurt/comfort, and some more sex.

This ‘story’ is little more than a set up for endless amounts of smut. It’s fairly good smut, and if you’re looking for some explicit pirate/non-pirate porn, then it does the job. For me, I’m still shaking my head over the fact that this is the second time in as many Age of Sail books that an author has given the captain of a wooden ship a hearth in his cabin. An open fire, on a ship made entirely of inflammable wood, coated with inflammable pitch and containing a room full of gunpowder.

I realise this is probably not a deal-breaker for other people, but it is for me. For me it says “I didn’t care enough about my setting to even make the effort of looking at the internal layout of a tall ship (easily available by Googling), or sparing a moment’s thought about the realities of life at sea.” Why bother to set your story on a 17th Century ship if you’re going to write it as if it was a house on waves? Why should I, who was looking for some real tall ship action, care about a story that is just pirate-dress-up + porn? I don’t. However, if pirate-dress-up + porn is what you’re looking for, you will like this story better than I did.

I wish that the volume had opened with one of the other stories instead, because first impressions count, and all of the other stories have more to recommend them than the first.

Julia Talbot’s The White City is set in Algiers. Told alternately in the PoV of Jem Nettles, captured pirate, and his captor Hakim Reis, this is a story which is much more historically believable in terms of setting. I’m even delighted by the fact that Hakim Reis and his nemesis and overseer turn out to be British pirates employed by the Dey, like the infamous trio of Dutch pirates who ‘turned Turk’ in the early 17th Century.

Hakim finds himself falling in love with his captive and refuses to turn him over to his boss, Sharim Reis. Sharim is annoyed, as Jem has been a pain in his neck and he wants to see the annoying man punished. So Sharim captures Hakim, and is about to teach him a painful lesson when Jem (who has seized the opportunity to escape from them both,) rallies his scattered ship’s crew and rescues him. There is some sex with dubious consent in the story, and it is quite hard to see what it is that draws Jem and Hakim together and makes them willing to risk so much for each other. But it was so nice to see a setting that I could believe in, and a story that had some plot, that I put this down to the mysteries of love and just enjoyed the suspense of wondering what was going to happen next.

I liked this one and would like to read something longer by her.

Fool’s Gold by Mychael Black features mature pirate Ian Bowers being employed by naïve young gentleman Silas Christian to find the treasure to which Christian’s father has left him a map. Over the course of the story we discover that Christian is not really naïve, nor a gentleman at all, he’s actually the son of Bowers’ previous captain and lover. During the hunt for this and then a second treasure, the two of them fall in love, and Bowers has to prove to Christian that (a) he loves the son as much as he ever did the father, and (b) he’s willing to give up the sea in order to be with Christian.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I thought the characters were interesting, and the tangled story would have benefitted from being expanded to novel length and fully explored. I never did quite understand why anyone had to give up the sea – they could have become legitimate merchants rather than pirates and carried on sailing. There was a lot in here in terms of story and backstory and aims and themes and characterisation, and I felt it didn’t get a chance to be what it could have been because of the short length and the need to stuff it full of sex scenes. There are a lot of sex scenes, and I’m afraid my eyes did glaze over at points.

I can’t stop myself from saying that no 17th Century gentleman would be wearing trousers and boots, though. Trousers are not worn by respectable people until the early 19th Century. And this must be a 17th Century setting because a lot of it is set in Port Royal before the earthquake.

This one was interesting, I thought. Lots of potential, which I’d have loved to see expanded, but (IMO) sidetracked by too much sex. Again, your mileage may vary if the sex is what you’re looking for in the first place.

Of Boats and Bluebeards by Willa Okati:

Kit’s lover David runs away to sea and is drowned. Kit’s uncle, on finding out that Kit has a male lover, treats him so badly that Kit runs away to the docks too, hoping to be taken on as a sailor. This duly happens, but not before Kit acquires a hanger on in the shape of Paul, who is an old friend of David’s. However, the handsome and obliging captain who has press-ganged them both turns out to be a pirate of the old school – a rapist and murderer with a grizzly surprise locked away in one of the store rooms on his ship.

Despite the fact that this is another ship which leaves only a skeleton crew on watch at night (better than none at all, but still, what happens when the wind changes and there aren’t enough men to man the sails?) and continues to use the cannon even when boarding (thus mowing down their own men) I enjoyed this story. It’s refreshing to find a pirate who is genuinely piratical and not very nice. The threat of rape hanging over Kit, and the later threat of murder gave the story a real tension and suspense, and there’s a wonderfully grotesque and gruesome moment half way through that really had an impact on me. Paul and Kit’s hate/love relationship was also a nice twist, and I liked the open-ended ending which took them out of immediate danger but allowed them to go on to further adventures together.

Given the title and the historical Bluebeard, I should have been expecting the surprise, but I wasn’t, and I give the story due kudos for that. It woke me up, and I like that.

So… on the whole this anthology presents more good than bad. Few of the stories are exactly historically correct, but (except for the hearth) the anachronisms are not so egregious that I couldn’t enjoy the stories despite them. There was too much sex for me, but there was at least enough story to keep me reading despite that. One of the best examples of its sort, I think, and if you’re actually looking for erotica rather than romance it would be even better.

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Review: To Hell You Ride by Julia Talbot

Big Roy is a hard rock miner with a not so secret love for the theater, so when he hears a new troupe of actors are coming to the Telluride opera house to put on a Shakespeare play, he saddles his mule and makes the trek into town to see it.

The play doesn’t disappoint, but the beautiful lead actor, Sir Edward Clancy, certainly does. Clancy is rude and arrogant, and Roy figures he’d never have a chance with such a man. He’s wrong, because Clancy needs some entertainment himself, being stuck in a Hellish mining town for the long, snowy winter.

Come spring, though, Clancy knows he’s going to want to move on, and he thinks Roy will be easy to forget. Then tragedy strikes, and Clancy has to rethink his entire life. Can these two strike gold?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

“‘Thank the Lord and all the angels,’ as Big Roy Marsh would say. ‘A historical western that gets it right.’”

Edward Clancy looked up from his book. “What’s that you say?”

Roy Marsh looked at him. “I’m readin’ a review and she quotes me.”

“A review? Of what?”

“The book about us, of course!” Roy gave Clancy an exasperated stare.

“Which one?”

Roy wondered if Clancy was being dense on purpose. “Tis only one, as you know. Ain’t dozens of books ‘bout us. To Hell You Ride, the one by Miss Julia Talbot.”

“Ah,” said Clancy. “And what does she say? Is it a positive review?”

Roy nodded. “I’d say so. Five stars.”

“Five stars! A superior rating! That’s better than my last performance.”

“You didn’t rehearse enough for that one.”

“You were too busy keeping me busy.”

Roy blushed at that.

Clancy gestured towards the paper. “Go on, read some more.”

Roy cleared his throat. “‘Big Roy Marsh is a gold miner, working high in the mountains above Telluride, Colorado. On Saturday, he likes nothing better than to ride his mule, Annie, into town, stop for a shave, haircut and perhaps a bath, then put on his ‘Sunday go-to-meeting clothes’ and head to the theater.’”

“That’s what you still like,” Clancy interrupted.

Roy nodded. “I surely do, even if you do make me wear a suit.”

“You look particularly fine in a suit.”

Roy blushed again. He looked back down at the paper. “‘On this particular Saturday, Roy is transfixed by the performance of Sir Edward Clancy in the role of MacDuff. He accidently bumps into the actor the next morning and wishes to pay him a compliment, but Sir Edward arrogantly brushes him aside.’”

Clancy frowned. “Why did she have to include that?”

“It’s true. You were arrogant.” He continued reading. “‘When a comment about Sir Edward’s rudeness makes it into the paper, Clancy decides he requires a personal apology and sets out to get it, which becomes the basis for an amusing encounter between the two men.’”

“Amusing, hmm? I thought it was odd.”

“Amusing or odd, you couldn’t get enough of me,” Roy said.

It was Clancy’s turn to blush.

Roy turned back to the paper. “‘Roy and Clancy are the unlikeliest of lovers, but Talbot tells their story deftly, moving from a relationship built on carnal lust and a base desire for each other to one of a strongly shared love and mutual need.’” Roy’s brow furrowed. “Sounds a little personal, here.”

“Well, if you didn’t want it to be personal, you shouldn’t have shared so many details. I told you to be a bit more circumspect.”

Roy looked at his lover, his lips tightening into a hard line, but didn’t say anything. “‘The reason why this story works so well as a historical western, as opposed to a story that takes place in the old days, is the way the author effortlessly evokes the time and period. Little details bring the frontier town of Telluride to life, with its wood-framed buildings and muddy roads leading high up into the mountains. I particularly loved this line, ‘Only thing he’d taken had been his own shoes and coat, assuming them after he was out in the hallway, bright with its fancy electric lights that looked so odd to Roy. Any light that didn’t flicker with the wind just oughtn’t be trusted.’” Roy looked at the electric lamp at his elbow, then looked at Clancy. “Not sure why she’d comment on that,” he said. “Still think it’s true.”

Clancy smiled at him. “Oh, my rough miner. You never change, do you?”

“Do you want me to?” Roy asked.

Clancy shook his head. “No,” he answered softly.

Roy took a minute to compose himself, then picked up the paper again. “‘Themes are beautifully woven throughout the story, such as shaving and bathing. At the beginning, they are impersonal acts between Roy and the barber—a business transaction. Then they become erotic moments between the two main characters and ultimately, an act of caring and love, when Edward bathes Roy after a life-threatening accident.’”

Roy stopped. “Well,” he said.

“Well,” Clancy replied.

“I didn’t know we was being erotic,” said Roy.

“I didn’t know we had themes, but I suppose I should have figured it out, given my prowess in the acting profession.”

Roy chuckled. “Gotta hand it to you, Clancy, you ain’t ever been one to hide your light under a bushel.”

Clancy pointed to the paper. “Go on. Is there anything else?”

Roy nodded. “‘All in all, this was a thoroughly satisfying novella. Colorful, well-drawn characters, a totally engaging story, historical details that were pitch perfect in pulling me into turn-of-the-century Colorado. Having read a number of Westerns that come nowhere near this standard, it was a true pleasure to stumble upon this unexpected gem.’” Roy stopped reading. “Guess she liked it.”

Clancy nodded. “With a review like that, I suppose I shall have to stop ignoring this book and actually read it. Do we own a copy?”

“Yup,” said Roy. “It’s in the bedroom, next to the bed.”

“Will you fetch it for me?”

Roy shook his head mournfully. “Now, Edward, you know I ain’t your manservant, here to do your fetching. You can go get it for yourself.”

“I suppose I shall have to do that.” Clancy brushed an imaginary piece of lint from his trousers. “Perhaps you will accompany me?”

“To the bedroom?” Roy asked.

Clancy nodded. “Some of the things you read reminded me of memories that have, um, quite aroused me. I think, perhaps, some recreation is in order.”

“You mean getting fancy?” Roy winked.

“You know precisely what I mean, my love.”

Roy stood up. “You lead the way, honey,” he said with a smile.

“I don’t need to be asked twice,” replied Clancy, as they headed out of the room, the newspaper forgotten on the chair.

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