Book Review: Where Loyalties Lie, by Rob J. Hayes

I’ve been meaning to read Rob Hayes’ works for a while (especially considering his record-breaking win in the SPFBO 2017), and so jumped into Where Loyalties Lie. It is an excellent story of piracy set in a fantasy world based on the Age of Sail, though not for the faint of heart.

What to expect

Lots and lots of pirates, sail ships, piracy, buccaneers, tall ships, corsairs, and more pirates, roaming a world where magic is light and in the background and technology is high sails and early gunpowder (present in pistols and early rifles — but no cannons). The plot unfolds throughout the novel, with brisk pacing and appropriate twists as we follow shifting viewpoints of the main characters. Each chapter is named after a ship and the viewpoint follows its crew (usually the captain), making for an original and interesting device which keeps things fluid.

This is a first in a duology, but can be read by itself. It ends at a good point, one that leaves you eager to learn more but without a crushing cliffhanger.
The world Hayes built up has been established in previous novels, but that doesn’t affect understanding or enjoyment of this one. (In fact, the minimal world-building just gives a feeling of deep and rich background, without bogging down the storytelling). All in all, it’s an excellent entry point to Hayes’ works.

What I liked

Motivated and complex characters, with individual agendas as befitting their backstories. None of them shy of the dark aspects of piracy, but neither do they fall into some two-dimensional stereotypes of villains with or without a heart of gold. They are mostly people who chose, for whatever reason, a life where they can set their own rules — even if their existence relies on violently robbing others. This level of complexity makes them believable and sympathetic.

The world-building, as mentioned above, is nicely done. I like this kind of atmosphere, where magic is woven integrally into the fabric of the world, and yet is not something that is thrown about willy-nilly at any opportunity.

There are appropriate touches of humour (from naming a pirate ‘Princess’ to creative phrasing and profanity), excellent action scenes, and a good balance of descriptions to be evocative without slowing the pace.

What to be aware of

This is a work of Grimdark Fantasy, with explicit violence and sex, including deliberate murder and rape. If you need any trigger warnings on your reading material or are easily offended by crude language, this is not a book for you.

The plot is quick and on the epic scale, engaging though not surprising — a tale of high adventure, rather than shifting intrigue. The history buff in me also found it a tad strange that there were pistols and rifles, but no ship-board cannons.

Summary

If you loved Pirates of the Caribbean but always wanted the adult (rather than Disney) version, grab a copy of this novel.

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