Thursday, April 12, 2018

Review: "Where Loyalties Lie" by Rob J. Hayes

I start my dive into the most recent Self Published Fantasy Blog Off finalists with the book currently sitting in the lead by a slim margin, Rob J. Hayes’ “Where Loyalties Lie.”

Keelin Stillwater is not your typical pirate captain. Drawn into the lifestyle by swashbuckling tales, he’s found it quite different than he expected, but he’s risen through the ranks due to his own cunning and commitment. He prefers to avoid bloodshed when possible, which doesn’t always sit well with his crew, and he has his own agenda in the pirate trade.

His relationship with his sometimes lover Elaina Black is even more complicated than the one with his crew. For one thing, his ship, The Phoenix, was stolen from her, which her father, the bloodthirsty and cruel captain Tanner Black, views as an offense that can only be answered with Keelin’s death.

Then there’s Drake Morass, a legendary rogue and sworn enemy of the Blacks, who has designs on setting himself up as the king of the pirates, but he needs Keelin’s help to do it.

Unfortunately for all of them, there’s a bigger threat looming as the Five Kingdoms have decided they’ve had enough of the pillaging and plundering and are determined to wipe out every man, woman and child in the Pirate Isles. Oh, and did I mention they’re not the only threat?

Tales of pirates often focus on the swashbuckling adventure aspect with only nods to the grim reality of the world they lived in. That’s not the case with Hayes. Though there’s plenty of adventure to be had and perhaps a bit of glamorizing here and there, this story is grimdark to its core. You have to look no further than the relationship between Tanner Black and his daughter, which provides perhaps the most horrific scene in the book, to see that these guys weren’t a Robin Hood-type outfit. It was a life that was ugly, grimy, violent and often short.

Hayes’ two “big bad” captains do fall somewhat into the mold of archetypical pirate characters. Tanner Black is the ruthless tyrant who rules by fear; Drake Morass is the roguish captain who wins the loyalty of his crew and others through natural charisma and charm. It’s the characters in between, though, that make the book.

The official summary of the novel presents it as the tale of Drake Morass, but to me, as you can see from my take above, it’s the tale of Keelin Stillwater. He’s by far the most relatable character in the book and, perhaps, the most complex. Elaina, though, is close behind. We know that she’s fierce and has possibly the worst case of Stockholm Syndrome ever put to paper, but there’s still much mystery and depth that I believe we haven’t uncovered yet. Even many of the more minor characters are intriguing, and Hayes leaves you wanting to know more about the mysterious Arbiter Beck who has been assigned to protect Morass or the quiet immortal marksman Pebble who likewise watches Keelin’s back.

“Where Loyalties Lie” largely serves as a setup for what’s to come in the series. While it’s not lacking in action or intrigue, it introduces its colorful cast, explains their predicament and builds the anticipation for the chaos that’s sure to ensue. It’s a great start for the series and a great beginning to my SPFBO read.


No comments: