We read and review for the love and joy of books.
Genre: MM Steampunk
Review: Playing by their rules and winning.
Profit on the high seas is still a challenge even in the time of airships. Pirates marauding for a share of the wealth being moved along the Golden Triangle. Merchants maximizing their take and investors protecting their positions. Alex attempts to protect his family's much needed income by journeying with the cargo.
Captured. Alexander, Margrave of Mergaux's world catastrophically changes when he's taken for ransom. Alex's naiveté is swept away as he grows both personally and his awareness of the world at play. As the spare, he was never trained to be margrave or march lord, and his perceived weaknesses has him shunted to the corners. The lives of all involved are permanently altered.
Beche and Alex are night/day, ying/yang, and fire/water. Neither is prepared for the other though Beche's upbringing and beliefs are far more tolerant. I liked that this didn't rush. Plot driven, the romance was sweet and an underlying thread, but never drove the story. Beche's discussion of love and its various manifestations was quite lovely.
Still!!! Pirates, high seas and danger. Swashbuckling with a dose of reality. Life was not easy. Soft got crushed. And whipping was a common form of feedback in many situations--British naval men weren't called lobsterbacks because of their uniforms, but because of their scarring.
The discussion of African slavery is never easy, and the blunt portrayal of conscripted convict servitude as the new slavery in a post Proclamation time eases the guilt and underscores the truth about the South's economy as fundamentally unsustainable, the desperate, cruel grasping to maintain the plantation system which originated with indentured servitude. *See the Bacon Rebellion to understand how early America adopted its preference for appalling racial based slavery.
The supporting cast of secondary characters are fabulous. Fun, feisty vignettes unto themselves. Philla, eldest and bred to lead until her male siblings came to chance-- interesting twist on primogeniture. Aster, Alex's contriver sister who is a master tinker and the interesting nod to Tesla--hell yeah, that's sexy. Manuel, Fabrice, and Beche are all victims of the plantation system. Different voices about the same problem and the burden they carry from it.
Things are not always as they seem and certainly never as simple. As the characters overcome their prejudices and first impressions, they begin to understand the other's motivations. There is an ongoing discussion of gender (and some racial) politics and how the arbitrary rules are dysfunctional and fail to recognize the inherent motivations of people that have nothing to with the wrapping and everything to do with their being.
Anyway, I'll spare everyone my views on how monotheistic religions set up inflexible binaries that do nothing but damage, propagate intolerance, and unravel under logic. This is a cleverly wrought discussion of a difficult subject. And Hallelujah! Interracial romance that completely ignores stereotypes and tropes. My first impression and rating of this story was 4 stars, but as I thought more about it and wrote this review I can't in good conscience give it less than 5 stars because it is that valuable to me. Intelligent entertainment without didacticism.
Overall, a pathos argument about complexity and fluidity, in which the desperate need to catalog and box things leads to failure, inefficiency, and torture.
“He will need you later, and he will need to look into your eyes without seeing a reflection of his sins cast back at him."