Japanese publisher: Libre Shuppan, 2004
Licensed in English? Not so far as I can tell. Tragic.
Warnings: violence, non-con, suicidal thoughts
N.B. This is a BL novel with illustrations, not a manga. The review is based on the complex Chinese translation of the novel《掠奪愛吧!》published by Kadokawa Bloom in 2008.
Luke, the bastard son of a nobleman and a concubine, is a middle ranking officer in the British Royal Navy under the command of the celebrated Captain Reynolds. Luke worships the ground Reynolds walks on ― and Reynolds more than returns Luke’s attentions, going so far as to profess his love for the junior officer. But when Reynolds suddenly disappears in the midst of battle, only to turn up a year later as the captain of a pirate ship, Luke feels heartbroken and betrayed. Reynolds is no longer the same man he loved, so when the pirate turns up one night to steal him away, Luke refuses to go quietly.
This is a pirate novel just the way I like them: emphasis on the swash and buckle, with a joyous abandonment of historical accuracy. The buccaneers in this story are more likely to be found playing cards below deck than manning their ship, and all but a few members of the Navy are depicted as bumbling, sabre-happy idiots. Action scenes and Luke’s angst-ridden internal monologues as he tries to reconcile his devotion to Reynolds and his disgust at the amoral pirate he has become is at the expense of description and scene-setting. Nevertheless, the pacing is good and the only time the story bogged down for me was during the lengthy and mostly non-consensual sex scenes. These may be a staple of yaoi novels, but I never enjoy them.
The art by Zaou Taishi was not the style I would have expected to be commissioned for a ‘historical’ novel ― the lines are bold and clear, and there is none of the sumptuous detail in clothes and backgrounds that this type of novel is often treated to. Also, the colour cover and insert were a bit too brash for me: there was little gradation in colour, and what there was looked somehow amateurish (Luke’s skin in the insert looks like it’s been coloured with a fluorescent pink highlighter). But even so, I feel the artist did a good job of capturing the mood and personalities of the characters, particularly in the excellent black and white illustrations alongside the text.
Reynolds as a dashing pirate captain and love interest is as you’d expect him: he is a talented warrior, intense yet irreverent in the face of peril, persistent in bed, and vocally in love with our stubborn protagonist. Unfortunately, I still found his character a bit too one-track most of the time, as he spends a good portion of the story cheerfully trying to win Luke back in ways that are more likely to incite the younger man’s rage. Only occasionally does the reader get a seductive glimpse of how dark and manipulative Reynolds can actually be.
Luke is a serviceable protagonist who the reader can admire for his strict moral code,amusing short-temperedness and emotional foibles. The times in which he becomes a damsel in distress are not caused by a lack of bravery or competence on his part, but stem from his willingness to sacrifice himself rather than fight against his diverging loyalties. His “I love him but he’s a pirate!” internal dilemma becomes wearing by the end of the novel, though, and fails to elicit sympathy from the reader ― after all, everyone loves pirates! What is he even complaining about?
While I am a fan of the relationship dynamic where an otherwise strong character is smitten and lovey-dovey towards the protagonist, no matter how bratty and annoying that character is, I was constantly aware that a few frank discussions between Luke and Reynolds would have ironed out their relationship problems a lot faster than constantly flinging themselves into the line of fire. But I suppose then we’d have missed out on pages of unvoiced angst, cross-dressing at a noblewoman’s ball and the requisite duel aboard a tallship. Now that Luke has more or less reconciled his feelings and his relationship with his ambiguously moral pirate lover, maybe the next two novels in the series will get on with the business of pillaging and political intrigue. But somehow I doubt it.
If you like escapist yaoi-style romance, pirates and a quasi-historical setting, this is the novel for you. So yes.