Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J Hayes (The Best Laid Plans #1)

Where Loyalties Lie is the first book in The Best Laid Plans duology and will be followed up by The Fifth Empire of Man shortly. This novel was assigned to me as part of Fantasy Book Review's contribution to the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off and it has progressed to our internal semi-final stage. I think many fantasy readers will wish to read this based on the next two words: grimdark pirates! The two main characters in this pirate-tastic tale are the legendary Captains' Drake Morrass, who's only out for himself, and Keelin Stillwater, the best swordsman within the pirate isles. The two become unlikely allies as a larger threat beckons. The Empire is burning cities, killing women and children, and are essentially looking to eradicate piracy and all involved whilst manning the largest and greatest warships ever seen. The pirates need to unite or they are finished.

Instead of Point of View perspective, this narrative is presented as Point of Ship perspective, following numerous individuals who frequent the different vessels. This is a really interesting take on character presentation, doesn't get confusing, and led to a quality and deepness to the main players of which there are about 12. Grimdark is normally littered with 'bastards you love to hate,' for the majority, I don't think that assumption fits here. There are a few utterly evil characters sure, but I think in an environment where rape, murder, and robbery are the norms, that the World is the real bastard here and even the cut-throat pirates do what they do just to survive and they have elements of goodness, ambitions, and hopes. I clearly saw how some of the characters developed and almost became better people due to new comradeship and the ever looming threats. The way it's superbly well written, I truly felt like I knew the characters after a chapter or two, and when I finished the book I kept thinking about them. Thinking about what had happened, their often notorious pasts which were generally just hinted at, and what could possibly happen next. I would recommend taking a few notes regarding characters so you can remember which ships characters like Princess, Feather, Keelin, and Yanic are on.

This story includes Treasure Island-esque elements such as pirates loving rum, ships hierarchies, and one Captain even has a parrot. These things never feel forced or cliche and suit the world expertly. This book has some dark scene so be warned, especially a rape scene that happens early on to a likable character. One of the reasons I like grimdark is that no-ones safe and literally, anything could happen in those scenes. The sea battles were exquisite, as were the characters relationships - past and present. As stated, it's a dark environment but the narrative is littered with humour which sometimes keeps things light in the face of terror. The World seems typical but well-created fantasy. I believe this is set in the same world as and follows the events of The Ties that Bind. It has numerous religions, magics, and monsters. There may be some nuggets here a fan of his previous trilogy would recognise however, this duology is a complete standalone. In similar fashion, this book needs paying attention to. I don't think anything that was written here is coincidental and will, therefore, relate to upcoming drama, showdowns, or past revelations. Although we get to know the characters relatively well they are still mysterious and make future reveals and future engagements an intensely exciting prospect. Where Loyalties Lie is written and edited brilliantly. The ending has 2 or 3 action-packed climactic scenes which were great. It's completely self-contained but maybe at the finale, the sides are set for what I hope will be a breathtaking conclusion. I requested the ARC of book 2 off Rob about 10-minutes after I finished this one which I guess speaks volumes on how engrossing and enjoyable this story was. Where Loyalties Lie is piratical grimdark mastery, superbly written, with utterly engaging characters, and is a true contender for this years #SPFBO. Details of which can be found here: http://mark---lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/spfbo-2017-phase-1.html


9/10 Piratical grimdark mastery, superbly written, with utterly engaging characters

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