Genre: Fantasy — Grimdark
Series: Best Laid Plans #1
Publisher: Self-Published (May 26, 2017)
Length: 371 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Where Loyalties Lie is the first book in the Best Laid Plans duology from Rob J. Hayes; a sequel of sorts to his The Ties That Bind trilogy, but one where no knowledge of the former is required to enjoy the later. And for those unfamiliar with what they will be getting when picking up this new, pirate epic from Hayes, please understand this author is a no holds barred grimdark master, whose characters are violent, profane, and without very many redeeming qualities. In other words, the “pirates” you’ll encounter here aren’t the Jolly Roger-type portrayed in Disney films, but the bloodthirsty, thieving, and murdering realities who terrorize the seas of the First Earth fantasy world.
Pirates are under attack! Their more civilized neighbors tired of the constant thievery; navies sent out in force to exterminate pirates from the sea. These forces more than willing to kill anyone attached to pirates, including women and children. And so Where Loyalties Lie begins with Captain Drake Morass and crew watching a pirate township and all within burnt to ashes by this grand crusade.
Watching the scene of fiery death causes the calculating, charming, and absolutely brutally Captain Drake to have an epiphany; a realization that he has to do something to increase his chances of surviving this onslaught and protect his current status.
His plan – unite all the pirates in a sacred cause to drive back their foes, carve out their own independent pirate kingdom, and make Captain Drake their king!
Only one problem: everyone hates, fears and distrusts Captain Drake. And for good reason. He is a black-hearted villain who would use, betray, and discard anyone at anytime. Not to mention he is as violent as they come, willing to do the most terrible things to even those close to him upon a whim. His reputation as a damn monster fairly earned and not far from the truth.
But all that is a mere problem for old Captain Drake to overcome. A minor hurdle, if you will. Thus, he decides he needs a more trustworthy and naive captain as his right hand man. Someone whom the other pirates respect and trust; someone they will believe; someone who can convince them Captain Drake has changed, that he really believes in this grand crusade to unite them all, save them and create their own kingdom. Enter Captain Keelin Stillwater.
Keelin is a wanna-be do gooder. A pirate captain who tries not to murder and brutalize his victims, if at all possible. I mean, he is still a pirate, so all his lofty ambitions of not doing harm aren’t terribly convincing, but he does, at least, have them. And Keelin quickly falls in with old Captain Drake, giving the legendary Morass the poster boy for his grand crusade to give pirates change they can believe in.
Joining these two main characters in the ongoing tale are several others, most notably Elaina Black (daughter of feared pirate Tanner Black), Arbiter Beck (a familiar face from The Ties That Bind), and Captain Truck Khan (another pirate). Each of these characters getting their time in the spotlight, adding even more wrinkles to this complex tale of pirate brutality and betrayal.
All of which brings up the one thing prospective readers must keep in mind about Where Loyalties Lie: it is pure, unfiltered, one thousand proof, kick-you-in-the-teeth grimdark at its most potent. Rob Hayes’ cynical view of his characters and their self proclaimed altruistic motives easy to see. The people populating this story taking turns doing bad things, really bad things, including George R. R. Martin-like manipulation and coercing, graphic violence (even brutal rape), profane language, and a good bit of consensual sex. All of it is within the confines of the ongoing story, not out of place, and used to progress the plot along. But if you do not enjoy reading this type of grimness, please don’t say I didn’t warn you.
For grimdark lovers, Rob Hayes should be one of your go to writers. This guy can write a story with characters who are both charismatic, charming, calculating, yet are complete and total shites. I mean, there are so many WTF moments in Where Loyalties Lie that I’ve tried to block some of them out. Honestly, by the end of this narrative, I wanted to both drinking a beer with and ritually murder Captain Drake Morass, and don’t even get me started on Elaina’s dad who needs to be worked over by a torturer for a few years before he is quietly put down. That is how strong the emotions are that Rob Hayes’ writing can elicit.
If your okay with that, then this novel is a fine piece of nautical grimdark. It is pirates in a fantasy setting, who act like the thieves and scoundrels they are. Only here they are also caught up in a merry dance of killing and creating an empire. There is pirate politics, pirate battles, and pirate hypocrisy. Enough to keep even the most diehard fan of pirates and nautical warfare sit up and take notice. And mixed into the maniacal mayhem is an organically growing story of the people caught up in it all from mad Captain Drake to wanna-be-good-guy Keelin to the strong-yet-unsupported Elaina. Each of these people demanding that you keep reading to discover their ultimate fate.
Are their any major problems with the book? Not really. I mean, you have to be okay with all the graphic violence, rape, profanity, et cetera I mentioned earlier, and you have to really like pirates. Why I mention that last point is because I personally know people who hate pirates (and nautical stories in general), refuse to read books or watch movies about them. And Where Loyalties Lie is almost exclusively a nautical adventure, which takes place on ships and at sea. The battles are sea battles with deck combat. All the main characters are obviously pirates. So if you don’t enjoy those type of stories, this isn’t a book you should read.
To sum up, this is a grimdark tale of devious, destructive, yet intriguing pirates and those swirling around their ongoing circumstances. For lovers of grimdark, nautical fantasy, or villains as the focus, Where Loyalties Lies is a fantasy story not to be missed and will perfectly build within you a desperate need to get your hands on the next installment of the series.
I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank him for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.