Paizo, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-664-5
I’m only reviewing this book now because, for a long time, I misplaced this book. I searched for it now and then, but alas, to no avail. It was only recently when I found it… looking back at me at eye level on the book shelf that I walk past every day. Clearly, the publisher needs to put out books with brighter colors on the cover so that they could be more easily seen by the mortal eye.
Anyway, Chris A Jackson’s Pirate’s Promise features the same cast as that of Pirate’s Honor, but it can stand alone as its plot is self contained with only the love thing between Captain Torius Vin and his naga girlfriend Celeste carried over from that previous book. Similar to that book, though, this one may mention Torius Vin a lot on the back cover synopsis, but the focus of the story is actually on the ladies. In this case, the courtesan Vreva Jhafae is star of the story here, while Celeste gets her own B plot too. Torius is just muscle power here as the ladies strut their stuff, and I’d be lying if I say that I don’t like this. Oh, and tormented star-crossed lesbian lovers. No, it’s nowhere as tawdry as it may sound – this one can be quite unexpectedly gut wrenching.
Vreva is actually a spy for the Andorran government, helping the navy force of the Grey Corsairs disrupt the slave trade in the region. Her story begins when the operative she works closely with gets captured and later executed, spurring a witch hunt among the local authorities to locate this fellow’s accomplice. When they bring in an inquisitor, Vreva works her seductive magic on that woman, getting that her to fall in love with Vreva. Unfortunately, Vreva finds herself falling for Zarina along the way, and this is one relationship that can only end in disaster as Zarina is, you know, supposed to catch the spy and all. She also tries to enlist Torius to help her out on a mission.
Torius and some of the crew from his ship Stargazer, meanwhile, accompany Celeste on what is supposed to be a short, uncomplicated trip to an observatory, for Celeste to study the stars. Celeste soon discovers a fellow lunar naga there, and when Torius decides to leave Celeste there for a while to assist Vreva, she finds herself increasingly disturbed by this lunar naga’s determination to coerce humans into being his followers. Since lunar nagas are very rare, that fellow unsurprisingly decides that Vreva would be a good candidate to bear his kids.
Celeste’s story is actually quite minor – I would even go as far as to say that it’s just a convenient means to separate Celeste and Torius for the rest of the plot developments to take place later. Still, the author does a pretty good job in integrating this contrivance more organically into the story – it doesn’t scream “PLOT DEVICE!” too obviously, and its plot device nature is only evident by how the author quickly and abruptly drops that plot once he no longer has any need of it.
Actually, Pirate’s Promise is actually a better book on the whole when compared to the previous book, because there is a more confident stride in the narrative this time around. The battle scenes don’t scream “Random filler moments inserted to pad the book!” like in the previous book, and many things here come together very well. But the strengths of this book are especially evident in how effortlessly the author gets me to become emotionally invested in Vreva’s story. This woman is completely broken by the end of the story – really, if you read this book, you’d realize that “losing everything” is actually an understatement if we take into account the things she went through – but the way she tries so hard to hold her own until she’s completely broken is worthy of a standing ovation. Not once does she adopt the stance of a victim, and when she finally breaks, she is still thinking of the greater good. This is one incredible character, and I really like her.
Celeste gets to hold her own a bit more here – she was always wrong in the previous book, so it’s nice to see that she actually has some properly working gears inside her head for once. Her B plot feels a bit like a repeat of her story in the previous book, but it’s nice to see that she is still a tough kick-ass babe. I also enjoy how she can look past her initial dislike of Vreva to understand and even sympathize with her by the end of the story.
As for Torius, well, he’s there, and he does his thing to help things get moving for the ladies, so good for him.
I have a really good time reading this one, and I have to admit, I feel that Vreva and Zarina fall in love way too easily for the romance to be believable, but the doomed love affair has me all choked up inside. The author also has me at the edge of my seat during the denouement, so reading this book is actually an emotional rollercoaster ride for me in its late third or so. All in all, this one combines fun and pathos in a near-perfect mix, and it’s a blast.