Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Review: The Pirate's Game by Heidi Cullinan

After leaving it for ages between books 1 and 2 of this series, I forged ahead quickly onto book 3. The Pirate's Game begins straight after the previous book. Our main characters, Charles, Madeline, Jonathan, James and Timothy (who has hitched a ride with James, sharing his body) have left the new Catal and the Zamoan women behind and are now travelling on a pirate ship, through dangerous waters, to reach the safety of The Ring where they hope to spend winter and recuperate their battle weary self before facing Bassam, the Pretender, in battle again. Things don't quite go according to plan when they are attacked by Bay pirates on the open sea. In order to protect them, Charles makes a bargain with the Sea and things don't go quite as planned. They arrive at The Ring, minus one of their number, where Timothy discovers he can harness a strange magical power and have his body back for the winter.

I said in my review of the previous book that I spent quite a lot of book 2 feeling rather confused as to what was happening, especially in the parts set in the spiritual plane. This book is much simpler with much of the Lord/Lady mythology left until right at the end of the book. Until then the story is mainly focused on the human side of the characters and follows three main plot strands. The first is that of Charles and Timothy. At the start of the book Charles is a sexual slave to James, the pirate captain and we get a small number of sex scenes with them together, most of which show something of Charles' turmoil as he tries to reconcile the two parts of him that are god and human. James could come across as unfeeling during these times, but as his role seems to be that of listener and adviser to many of the characters, and sex is often linked through that role, I actually found I liked James a great deal.  Timothy lives within James and there are scenes which swap between Charles and Timothy and James. Once Timothy gets his body back, things move in a different direction for James and so the focus moves to the reunited lovers. These scenes are sensual and very romantic and I was happy that these men finally get to spend some time together.

The second plot strand involves Jonathan. I was sad that Jonathan was missing for much of book two but realised that this allowed for growth in Madeline as a character. In this book the focus turns to Jonathan, and in particular the feelings that were stirred up during his time in the temple with Timothy. Madeline leaves the story for a while and this separation allowed for development within Jonathan's character as he struggles to redefine his sexuality - something captain James is only too happy to help him with.  Like the previous book there are discussions on sexual fidelity, orientation and desire which were handled in a mature and adult fashion by all the characters.  I was very happy by the way this plot line worked out, although I was a little frustrated that James still remains somewhat of an enigma by the end. He seems to know exactly what to do and say to help people or allow people to work through their problems and yet, other than his feelings for Jonathan, we know so little about him.

The third plot point intertwines with the other two and is focused on the character of Elleian, one of the androghenie who has embraced a body which is both male and female. Transgender themes are explored through this character as well as allowing the reader to see a different side to the androghenie to that of Bassam. I liked Elleian a great deal and sympathised with tir's struggles to find love and acceptance free from gender constrictions.

The three plots are all explored in quite a quiet section of the book, set in The Ring. I very much enjoyed this part, mainly because for me the strengths of this series lies within the varied relationships. The book still contains exciting action sequences at the beginning and end of the book, and towards the end I found myself getting all muddled again with the mythology. The ending ties up a few loose ends, but left me with a lot of questions - in particular what has happened to the goddess and how the revelation about Jonathan will fit into future events -  and I'm hoping they will be answered in further books in the series.

Overall, I liked this book better than book 2 but it didn't have the scope and breadth of book 1. It gets a grade of 'Very Good' from me and I'm looking forward to the next installment where I'm hoping to see some happiness for Elleian.

Buy this book HERE.

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