I picked The Duke and the Pirate Queen up on a whim in the bookstore. The cover is beautiful, and I loved the idea of the heroine being a female ship captain. I have to say, I should follow my whims more often. This book was gorgeously written, incredibly sexy, and a very entertaining read.
The characters in this book are wonderful. They're all well-rounded and interesting, even the minor characters, and I am heartily impressed by that. It's so easy to just use stock characters as, for example, the crew of The Seaflower or the courtiers, but Janssen brings all of them to life. I also love that the characters are so diverse. Janssen doesn't go overboard with descriptions, but the hints she throws out about their appearances build a widely-varied cast. The world of The Duke and the Pirate Queen is invented (though not exactly a fantasy world), though it seems to be based on our cultures through the use of names like Arionhrod and Kuan. Those little hints of various ethnicities and cultures create a world that is wonderfully refreshing as well as richly described.
Imena and Maxime are great lead characters. Maxime is the kind of hero that's almost too good to be true: gorgeous, ripped, with an enormous... asset and a habit of sleeping with pretty much anyone who tickles his fancy. But he's also quietly intelligent and a skilled diplomat, with a deep set of motivations and a strong sense of devotion to the people he cares about. I liked him very much, but Imena was the character who really fascinated me. She feels like a foreigner no matter where she goes; her parents are of very different ancestries, and in her mother's land, Imena is seen as an outsider and an aberration. In the duchies, Maxime's land, her looks as well as her privateer's tattoos set her apart from those people as well. She only feels at home on her ship, with her crew, and it was a pleasure to see her open up to Maxime. I was surprised and pleased by the fact that Imena regularly shaves her head. The tattoos extend onto her scalp, so she shaves so they're visible, but it was such a surprising move, to have a heroine that doesn't have long, lustrous hair.
My only complaint about the book is that the plot sometimes feels like it's meandering rather than moving smoothly forward. After Imena abducts Maxime and they go on the run, much of the story is taken up with seemingly random events. Sylvie, a spy working for Maxime's close friend, does the brunt of the work in rooting out the plot against the duke, and while Imena and Maxime do more than their fair share of fighting and evading danger, their part of the story seems more designed to bring the two of them together romantically. The ending felt rather anti-climactic, too, but the more I think about it, the more it fits with the pace of Maxime and Imena's story. I wished there had been a bit more in the way of excitement in the ending (more showing and less telling), but it was still satisfying.
Admittedly, I'm not complaining too much. The two of them coming together romantically (and repeatedly) more than makes up for a minor complaint in pacing. Janssen can write sex scenes that will set your panties on fire. For a while I'd gotten bored with the love scenes in romances; they all seemed repetitive and boring. I think this book has helped me get over my boredom. Holy cow.
I enjoyed pretty much everything about this book, from the steamy love scenes to the amazing descriptions to the likable characters. I'll definitely be seeking out more Victoria Janssen novels.
(Originally published at The Discriminating Fangirl.)