Christine Sanders is an American heiress who inherits a considerable shipping fortune when her father dies. Her heinous uncle and legal guardian (Romance Novel Commandment Number 19: Thou Shalt Not Allow an Orphan Heroine to Have a Decent Guardian, Unless Thou Art Setting Up The Scene for a Guardian-Ward Romance) rushes her into marriage with Justin Delerue, Earl Smithton. Unfortunately, Christine hears some extremely unkind remarks bandied about by Justin and his best friend on the night before the wedding. You see, short of scoliosis and a lazy eye, Christine is inflicted with just about everything a young woman of her time dreads: she is six feet tall, obese and pimply. As a consequence, she feels socially awkward; in fact, she overhears this conversation as she hides in the balcony over the library, her nose in a book, hiding in the dust and looking out the window.
Caught between a less-than-stellar guardian and a fiancÃ© who seems intent on marrying her, dumping her in Devon and then forgetting all about her, she decides the only way to freedom is to drug Justin on his wedding night. That way, she can run away and hope that Justin annuls the marriage once he realizes he’s been abandoned. Unfortunately, Justin’s trouser monster remains fully functional even after he’s been drugged, and the wedding night boinking commences. So much for an annulment. (Romance Novel Commandment Number 30: Thou Shalt Not Avoid Boinking, Even While Under The Influence of Narcotics)
Once he passes out for reals, Christine gets to haul her (rather substantial) ass to her godfather, Julius Davies, a former pirate who likes the lads. (And let Sarah just interject here: the meeting with Julius made me laugh out loud. For I ask you, if you were to meet a pirate, what would you expect him to say?)
While hiding out with him, she comes up with an idea: she can masquerade as a pirate and steal her fortune back by raiding Justin’s ships. Julius is skeptical, but Christine’s Staunch Determination persuades him, so he puts her through some rigorous training to effect her transformation from Christine Sanders into the pirate Christopher Daniels. Some of this training involves putting gourds in her pants, woot! Gourds in her pants to pee out of, too. Because the GoodVibes Softpack didn’t exist yet, sadly.
Oh, and besides turning her into a convincing man, they also take the extra precaution of hiring only gay pirates as their crew. Yes, you read right. A ship literally filled with asspirates. Except for the gunner and his companion, Sally, who is a goose. Yikes. But what’s a little bestiality between pirates, especially with a well-dressed goose who understands spoken English. And spoken pirate English.
After Christine/Christopher gets her swishbuckling crew together, the raiding commences and everything goes swimmingly, until Christine encounters the ship carrying his lordship. She uses the opportunity to capture him, bring him aboard her ship and demand a divorce. Justin, who had been going sick with worry for Christine ever since her disappearance, is at first shocked and furious that Christopher Daniels is actually his missing wife, then decides to use this opportunity to rock Christine’s boat. Ship. Whatever. Can their love survive the turbulent seas of misunderstanding, recriminations and the fact that Christine has a bigger gourd tucked away in her pants than Justin?
Y’know, I really enjoyed reading this book. Make no mistake, it’s kind of silly. A ship full of gay pirates? Holy mother of god. But I suspended my disbelief, went with the flow and pretty much had a good time.
The biggest problem with the book is one I rarely encounter. Many single-title romance novels (and fantasy books, come to think of it) tend to prolong the conflict artificially; I mean, usually, just when you think the hero and heroine are going to finally talk and sort out their differences, she catches him kissing some lady on the cheek at a masquerade ball and flies into a passion, runs away to Scotland and rends her hair with grief while he’s convinced she finally ran away to be with that no-good limpdick sunken-chested poet whose titties aren’t nearly as beautiful and firm as his, dammit and then she finds out from her sassy lady’s maid that the mysterious lady is actually his long-lost sister but oh no, he’s all pissy now and she needs to beg his forgiveness for her asinine assumption despite the fact that before marrying her he did have a tendency to hump anything that moved.
So no, this book does NOT have that problem. Quite the opposite. I have to say that this is one of the few books I’ve read that would have substantially improved if it had at least 50 pages or so added to it, because damn, for a big-ass chunk of the book Christine and Justin aren’t even together, and before that they spent all of one day together, none of it particularly pleasant. But within days of them being thrown together on Christine’s pirate ship and Justin reading a few stanzas of Andrew Marvell to her, she’s all “C’mere, stud, I love you, rrowr!” and bam, nookie and HEA. The conflict isn’t just resolved, it’s resolved at warp speed.
Another, more minor problem, concerns Christine’s transformation from shy, chubby duckling to svelte, swashbuckling swan. It takes her about a year, and she sheds most of her weight, loses the zits and becomes a skilled fighter and a convincing male impersonator. OK, one can lose a substantial amount of weight in a year, but the whole master fighter thing was a bit hard to swallow because it takes years and years of training for somebody to become truly skilled at fighting. Hey, just watch any kung fu movieâ€”you can be some punk kid with skillz but the crusty old alcoholic monk can still totally kick your ass.
But on the other hand, DUDE. Shipload of buttpirates. I guess if I can suspend my disbelief for that, Christine becoming a master swordsperson in a year isn’t that much of a stretch.
On the whole, though, Marshall’s writing style is enjoyable. It’s breezy, it’s readable, and the characters are enjoyable even though because of the length of the book and the speed at which the story moves along, they come across more as thumbnail sketches rather than fully-fledged entities. If the love story had been more substantial, it could’ve been a B or B+, easy.
I’m in 100% agreement with Candy in her wishes for more. I wish the story had had more “meat” to it – har har – in terms of the real and valid conflicts between Justin and Christine, and more depth to explain the sudden and intensely passionate attraction between the two of them. I mean, were I a dude, and were I a mega-wealthy stud like Justin, and were I drugged on my wedding night only to wake up with a runaway wife, and then find said runaway wife on a ship of asspirates, would I perhaps, perchance think there was something naughty in her Nottingham? Particularly as she is dressed as a man? On a ship? Of swashbuckling butt burglars?
And my other problem, and truly this is nitpicky in the extreme, is the choice of names for the two major male characters in the book. Justin? Julius? If I was reading quickly – and I usually was because this book just flies – I would often get mixed up between them, as even with a quick scan, the names appear similar. Unless this was a deliberate shading on the part of the author, and I don’t think it was since there was hardly any guardian/ward shennanigans between Julius and Christine, it was a slight distraction that forced me to slow down, even though the prose invited me to speed right along. High speed reading, high speed adventure.
However, the part I loved best about this book, and it was literally a laugh out loud experience, was the camp of it. This was truly the first romance novel I’ve read that was this out-and-out campy. Once I got over the jaw dropping realization that I was reading about a ship of asspirates, I had a great time with this book. Unlike many pirate romances, which try to take the slightly goofy stereotypes of pirates and infuse them with political drama, angst, and sturm-und-drang, this book took the idea of pirates, made them GAY pirates, added a cross-dressing heroine, and hell, while we at it, why not a goose? Named Sally? And an actual person who says, “ARRRRGH?”
This book did not take itself too seriously, which is not to say that it wastes the reader’s time in terms of research or story. It didn’t take itself too seriously in the same manner as your favorite friend who is cuttingly funny because she can laugh at her own foibles. This book was a great deal of fun to read, and it must have been fun to write.