Based on the cover alone, I expected a great pirate story with some fantasy elements mixed in. The summary promised as much. Sadly, I did not get what I was expecting. Or at least, I did not get it to the extent I would have liked. But it’s not a bad book.
The novel starts a little slow. The opening makes sense, introducing the overarching characters that will make up the rest of the series in addition to Princess Clarice, the main character of this starting book. From there, it takes a while for the main plot to kick in, but it does so in a slow creep of brutality. When the inciting incident happens, it’s a kick to the gut, and draws you in from that point forward. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough substance to the rest of the book to deliver a satisfying experience.
The characters are a pretty flat. None of them really go anywhere emotionally (save for Clarice and Dominick falling in love) but there is no sense of an arc. The book easily could have gone deeper across the board, not just with the main characters, but with the side cast as well. There are good interactions, though, and I like that Clarice holds her own in a crew of men with little need for exaggerated disguise. There’s no weird noting of men vs women, they’re just people. Clarice only really notes the contrasts when she’s comparing her new life as a pirate to her old one as a princess, and how things would have been different for her personally had she not gone to seek her fortune. But there are some things that are still a little jarring.
For instance, having Dominick call Clarice (or Clarence, as he first knows her) “my dear” felt strange. Wouldn’t really expect men to call each other that, especially not before a deep bond of friendship (platonic or otherwise) had been formed, but maybe that’s just me and my lack of knowledge regarding historical banter.
The world building is a little weird, too. There are fantasy kingdoms but they’re located between Russia and Poland? Why? What is the point? Would have strongly preferred a straight up fantasy world as it’s jarring this way, in my personal opinion. There are no implications that this is a parallel world so it doesn’t make sense to see real-world countries alongside fictitious ones, though they have a somewhat humorous explanation in that Clarice’s country is literally too small to be displayed on most maps. (Although, that doesn’t stop Vatican City or Monaco from appearing on maps, so it’s not the best explanation to have ever explained a thing.)
Points for characters of color. A few points shaved off for describing them with food comparisons. There’s a good sense of diversity but again, the book easily could have gone deeper into many of these side characters.
The romance is a slow burn. There’s an instant attraction between Clarice and Dominick, but it’s as friends at first and there’s no mention of heaving bosoms or broad man chests or raging hormones. Points for a more natural romance!
I had hoped for more action since this is a princess turned unwilling pirate, after all, but when the climax came, it became clear that action is not the strong suit of this author team. I’ve heard that Mercedes Lackey’s earlier books are much better, but in this book, too many things happened without explanation, and with such sudden finality as to be disorienting. Plus, I would have liked to see Clarice use her swore more than just once. She’s noted for her skill with a sword. She should use it. She should have been given the chance to fight more than once, or at least practiced so she didn’t get rusty.
So, to sum up: I enjoyed the book overall but wouldn’t rush to recommend it. If I remember another book correctly, Pirates! is far better, if you’re looking for a female protagonist turned pirate with a dash of fantasy thrown in. (Also Minerva is an amazing character in that book, though I plan to reread it to see if it still holds up.) I’m not sure that I’m looking forward to the next in the One Dozen Daughters series but I’ll probably check it out when / if it’s released.