Tor, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7547-6
Chris A Jackson’s Pirate’s Prophecy is the third book in an ongoing series, but the plot is self contained and there is minimal baggage from previous books, so it can probably stand alone quite well. Starting from the first book isn’t a bad idea, though, as the main characters here all have pre-existing relationships that go all the way from the beginning. Do note that, because of this, this review has some mild spoilers. Nothing too big to ruin the plot of this story – in fact, the cover art is actually a bigger spoiler, heh.
This time around, Torius Vin and his naga lover Celeste as well as the crew of Stargazer are back. Or rather, they haven’t gone away, as they are busy playing spies for the Twilight Talons, the spy branch of the liberty-loving Andorra in that nation’s quest to apply some screws to the slave-owning, devil-worshipping nation of Cheliax. As a former slave, Torius is all about doing his part to end slavery, even as Celeste warns him that keeping the full details of their mission from the rest of the crew is not exactly fair to these people. Courtesan and spy Vreva Jhafae has reinvented herself as a sophisticated lady of a gentleman’s club in Ostenso, a position that allows her to mingle with and spy on the naval officers of Cheliax. She soon gets wind that one of the ships contain a destructive weapon guarded by a devil and a witch, and looks into the matter. Soon, she and the rest find themselves having to clean up the mess because, as usual, the supposedly liberty-loving folks they answer to are as useless as can be.
One interesting aspect of the story which I like, but some readers may not, is that as spies, Vreva and Torius sleep with other people even if, in Torius’s case, he is in a relationship already with Celeste. Celeste is understanding – she doesn’t like it, but it’s for a good cause and she is secure in the knowledge that Torius loves her and not the woman he is boinking to gather important information – and Torius really hates doing what he has to do, but I’m sure some readers, especially those invested in the relationship of these two, may not like this aspect of the story too much. I personally think it’s a nice, realistic touch – if you are a spy involved in ferreting information out of the people, it’s reasonable to expect that pillow talk would be an integral way to get such information.
That aside, Pirate’s Prophecy is a perfect example of a filler book in a series. Characters seem to be stuck in a rut, as if the author is saving up stuff to take place in the next book. Torius is becoming more and more irrelevant in a series that he is supposed to be headlining, as he’s basically the muscle that carries out the more physical, fight-heavy aspects of the job under Vreva’s urging. He has no new character development. As for Celeste, her boring “I continue to wonder who I am, as I stare at the stars a lot” arc continues here, as she learns that she has been chosen by Desna as her oracle. Sounds fun, right? Celeste is conflicted about this possibility, but this arc peters out and has no payoff here. The author is probably saving that for the next book, and if this is the case, I hope this arc goes to somewhere interesting as currently it just turns Celeste into a boring character that whines and faints and gets knocked out cold a lot.
Indeed, I wish that the author has just focused on Vreva, as once again she steals the whole show and she is also the one who, once again, kicks the whole story in motion and pushes it to the finish line. But even then, her character is stuck in a rut too, as I never get to see any new facet to her personality or learn anything new about her.
This won’t be so bad if the action-oriented aspects of the plot make up for the lackluster characterization, but the plot itself is all over the place. The author puts in a denouement that is literally “monster shows up to crash the party” in nature, making all the intrigue and build-up leading to that point irrelevant. While I applaud the author for taking a risk in killing off a tragic character whose archetype normally survives to the end, this death means little in the wrong run and the character who is supposed to be most affected by this character’s death seems to have forgotten even that character’s name by the time the happy ending rolls in. Also, big villains are eliminated casually or off-screen after all the build-up about them. Everything about the story feels like filler tossed in to kill time until the author releases that giant monster in the cover to terrorize everyone during the climax of the story.
Thus, while the author still sustains his solid sense of pacing here, this one still feels like a meandering tale that doesn’t know what to do with itself. It is built on expectations set by previous books in the series, but it lacks focus and seems incomplete at the end of the day. Hence, the perfect series filler book.