This post is seriously overdue. I read these books in August! Quite a while ago, I wrote a post about the first two books in this series, and now I’m finally attempting to catch up. My thoughts on book 4 are still to come (I know, right? Bated breath.). If you’re one of those weird people (oh, you weird people) who cares about things like plot spoilers and surprise reveals, and you’re actually planning on reading these books, I suggest you stop reading this post and get to (but keep in mind that you ought not be put off by book 1 – it’s annoying, but the other books are quite good. If annoying isn’t your speed: skip book 1 entirely.).
If you’re still reading, I’m just going to assume that you, like yours truly, don’t give two hoots or a holler about surprise reveals with dramatic music. Or, well, not much.
A publisher’s blurb might actually be helpful here. From Goodreads:
Can a pirate learn that the only true treasure lies in a woman’s heart?
Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind—and nine months ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back . . . and he’s asking for her help.
“Charming” Mickey O’Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London’s criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. And yet he’s never been able to forget the naive captain’s wife who came to him for help—and spent one memorable night in his bed . . . talking.
When his bastard baby girl was dumped in his lap—her mother having died—Mickey couldn’t resist the Machiavellian urge to leave the baby on Silence’s doorstep. The baby would be hidden from his enemies and he’d also bind Silence to him by her love for his daughter.
After telling Silence Hollingbrook’s back story over the course of the first two novels of this series, Hoyt finally gave Silence her own story. She is married at the beginning of the series and just loves her husband all to pieces but feels vaguely disappointed in herself all the time. She burns dinner and feels awful about it. She wants fun sexy sexy times with her husband, but he’s somewhat reserved about that sort of thing (only in the dark, dear… Let’s think of England…), and she feels ashamed of her desire. When her husband’s life and career are threatened after the notorious river pirate steals all the cargo from the ship he (the husband) captains, Silence goes to the pirate’s lair to ask that he return the loot (naive much?). He agrees, with one stipulation: she must spend the night with him–talking–and must depart on foot the next morning in a disheveled state. While it appears that she spent the night selling herself in exchange for her husband’s cargo, she didn’t. Silence naively expects that her husband will believe her when she tells the truth about what happened, but, of course, he doesn’t. No one does. Instead, she becomes a ‘fallen woman,’ and her husband, ashamed of himself for not protecting his wife, ashamed of his wife for being defiled and for seeking to protect him (such a reversal of gender roles, that), leaves without ever resolving the issue. Eventually he dies.
He had to die, right? If they had experienced a healthy sexual relationship before he left, it might have been interesting to have him do the Angel Clare transformation (I know, I know… Tess of the d’Urbervilles, again?! Yes. Much as I hated that book, it is an appropriate foil for many romances…) and come back to earn his wife’s trust, once freely given. But they didn’t, and it wouldn’t be just, in a romance novel world, to reward an interesting character with unsatisfying sex for the rest of her life. In the interest of justice, then, Silence gets Mickey O’Connor.
Initially, I loved this book for being an entertaining, quick, and enjoyable read. Silence’s blend of vulnerability and strength is engaging, and I enjoyed her bond with and attachment to Mary Darling, possibly because I have a child about Mary’s age and possibly because Mary Darling is a very well-written character, for a toddler. Mickey O’Connor is a fairly solid anti-hero-turned-good-guy, and I thought he had a pretty good back story. I’m not entirely sure why, but I liked Mickey O’Connor. If I met someone like him in person, I’m fairly certain I’d take an instant dislike to him, but in what is essentially a fantasy novel, it’s safe to be drawn to personalities you’d normally despise, or, perhaps Mickey just reminds me a bit of myself. Mickey self-represents as a Machiavellian dickhead, but he’s charming, and he’s a heck of a lot more interesting than Silence’s late husband. While I expected the chemistry between these two characters to be a source of irritation to me, considering the harm Mickey did Silence in the previous books, I appreciated Hoyt’s take on the situation: her insistence that Mickey did not really harm Silence at all (and he didn’t). In fact, it was Silence’s untrusting husband, family, society, etc. that actually harmed her. In other words, all the people who had sworn to love and protect Silence ended up being the ones doing her harm with all their victim shaming.
Months after finishing the book, when I sat down to write a post about it, I discovered a giant pile of ambivalence had replaced my original, unconsidered “yup, I liked it.” response to the book. I find that I am not completely content that Silence ended up with the man who was the architect of her betrayal. Mickey acted in a remarkably selfish manner, and Silence ended up hurt. It’s true that it was her husband and family who actually hurt her, but Mickey, bothered by Silence’s contentment with a life that was somewhat beneath her, acted to test that contentment, and Silence paid the price. By giving Silence an HEA with Mickey, Hoyt forces me to ask some squirrelly questions about justice that don’t have any clear answers. Was it really wrong for Mickey to test Silence’s husband’s love? After all, if the husband had come up to snuff, had actually loved Silence (rather than an idea of ‘wife’), it would all be moot, a non-issue. But he didn’t come up to snuff, and I’m tempted to blame Mickey for everything that came after, and that’s not right either. Mickey poked at society’s view towards women, and it’s awful that he did so knowing how it would go, knowing that Silence would be unjustly punished and shamed by everyone, but shouldn’t my ruffled feathers and blame, as a reader, be directed against that society that shames victims and cares more about its wounded sensibilities than it cares about victims and what they might need?
If Silence’s story went a different direction, if she either continued on by herself (a respectable option, I think) or found someone else to love, it would be so easy to look back on Mickey O’Connor and consider him the true villain of the piece. Instead, Silence finds happiness with Mickey (and he finds happiness with her), and the question of whether Mickey was right or wrong (or a mixture of the two) is forced to the forefront. Maybe I liked this book so much because I enjoy uncomfortable conversations about difficult topics. The more difficult and awkward the subject is, the more I want to talk about it, the more I think we need to talk about it. But I digress.
I like adventures, stories with dastardly villains, and stories with the misunderstood hero trope (especially when he’s misunderstood by himself), and this book has all three. That last is a bit of a conundrum, because I don’t tend to like stories where the heroine ‘saves’ the hero from his own dastardly self (he can change, ladies: keep the dream alive.); however, I want a hero character to go on a bit of an internal journey during the story, and an easy way to achieve that is to have the hero start out kind of a douche and, over the course of the story, discover that there is a value to changing his behavior. Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough. The point is, I like this book, even though I thought the ending was way too convenient (no consequences for a lifetime of crime? Really?) and even though I had to work through my own ruffled feathers in order to like it.