Today, I have a guest post at the Novelists, Inc. Blog: Making Time.
And now for our primary feature:
A Completely, Shamefully Biased Review of The Duke & The Pirate Queen…by My Good Friend To Whom I Give Free Childcare, Like, All the Time (To Give You Some Idea of the Magnitude of This Gift and Thus Her Affection For Me, We Refer to Her Adorable Tots as The Monkeys)
The Duke and the Pirate Queen, the third novel by Victoria Janssen, from Harlequin Spice!
I am so excited about this book.
The characters first appeared in Janssen’s 2008 book The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom and Their Lover. In my LiveJournal review of The Duchess…, I described Duke Maxime as “a wild Neptune-like old flame who rules a vibrant seaport” and Captain Imena Leung as “a tall bald Asian pirate queen.” But they’re even more fabulous than that. Captain Leung’s shaved head is covered with tattoos, relics of her time as a privateer. Maxime’s easy magnetism, not to mention his generous endowments, made some readers of the first book wonder why he wasn’t the romantic lead. Well, here he is, a truly fitting match for the most coolly powerful heroine I’ve ever read in a romance novel.
Yes, that’s Captain Leung all right, muscular from rigging and repairing her own ship, barefoot and inked. I asked oracne where she got the idea for the tattoos and she said, “Maybe the last Rush Hour movie, a movie with a woman with a map tattooed on her scalp. It seemed that her value was reduced to what she had tattooed on her, and I wanted to strike against that: ‘These are the things I choose.'”
At 30, Captain Leung is the youngest of the Janssen heroines; the Duchess and the chemist from The Moonlight Mistress were both 40ish. Janssen writes women, empowered, experienced women who can handle role reversals and adult decisions. I love Captain Leung’s confidence as she navigates the riotous world of the novel, the polyglot seaport culture and the pirates on the high seas and the court intrigues.
Janssen wrote about the sources for her world-building for this book and I can see it all in the novel. She has two degrees in anthropology, a feminist education, 20+ years of experience writing fiction and reviews, hundreds of talks delivered at literary conventions, deep grounding in science fiction and fantasy…and reads 120-150 books each year…and all of this fuses into a playful confidence in constructing a historical romance set in a history of her own invention.
Janssen’s feminism, smut-writing (she’s published many short stories as Elspeth Potter), and familiarity with SF challenges to gender conventions make her a FANTASTIC romance writer. She establishes equality immediately by comparing Captain Leung’s restricted rights as a woman to Duke Maxime’s obligation to marry according to his king’s wishes, and she deals with gender smartly and naturally through all of her characters, within the Harlequin Spice specifications.
There are geek-writerly pleasures aplenty. The fellow smut peddlers out there might recognize many of her points about writing sex scenes. I enjoyed the names she found for her characters: Chetri! Seretse! Lady Diamanta Picot, who throws a jeweled pomegranate at Maxime’s head when he rejects her!
I confess that I’m not always a fan of genre romance, but I’ve gone back to this novel twice since I read it…for the characterizations and the dialogue. I laugh every time at how Captain Leung is forever a badass, except when her mother disapproves of her. The narrator has some fun with Maxime’s wryness about his enormous cock.
We get fascinating glimpses of minor characters such as Venom, an absurd young pirate who is sulky and pretentious, lethal and despicable all at once. I know I’m going to re-read this book again, and not only because a friend wrote it, and yes, that does surprise me. Romances aren’t usually on my re-read list.
Me, I’m…blushing too hard to comment.