The Duke & the Pirate Queen
The Duke and the Pirate Queen has all the makings of a classically entertaining romance romp. There’re pirates (naturally), royalty, characters with burning desires to prove themselves, court intrigues, a for-your-own-good kidnapping, nautical battles, social hierarchies to be overthrown, tribal traditions, precocious servants (who always know what’s best), surprise twists, and complications galore.
And, being an erotic romance, plenty of scope for some fingertip-singeing action.
The Duke and the Pirate Queen should be a curl-up-on-the-couch-with-a-mug-of-hot-tea-and-prepare-for-an-indulgent-pleasure kind of book. But it just never gets there.
The problem lies between expectations and delivery. From the very first of first impressions (the title), Victoria Janssen is promising her readers an over-the-top read, completely eschewing the reality-based romance that is the norm today. Today’s romance reader can be a bit cynical, and even the paranormal romances have to have some logical basis for the illogical, a certain down-to-Earthiness.
The Duke and the Pirate Queen whispers seductively of a throwback to the classic bodice rippers—big stories, big characters, big experiences, reality is overrated—all with an erotic twist.
But Janssen continually pulls her punches. Instead of taking advantage of her fantasy world, she scales back the details. What could be a colorful port becomes a flat backdrop. A duke whose backstory suggests obstinacy, pride, and utter commitment to getting what he wants becomes a placid, sensitive, new-agey guy. A pirate queen who turns her back on her family and convention to break new ground, refusing to accept the role society would dictate for her, becomes trapped in her own preconceptions, prolonging a shallow conflict. A potentially intriguing and involved conspiracy deflates to so much hot air.
Most damaging, however, are the punches that are pulled erotically as well. Janssen continually sets her characters up in erotic situations beyond the conventional, then in lieu of exploring them, fades to black. Readers are treated to prolonged, explicit scenes between the hero and heroine, but any situation that doesn’t comply with traditional expectations is glossed over. While sex is not the most important element in a romance (so far as it is used to forward the romance plot), when creating an erotic romance, it helps not to be bashful about non-vanilla sex.
As with the details of the plot, Janssen makes promises her novel doesn’t keep— forays into voyeurism, exhibitionism, m/m and f/f couplings, and even sexual competition, but then backpedals at high speed. That this is frustrating for the characters is no surprise—that it is equally frustrating for the reader further diminishes the novel.
There’s nothing overly wrong with The Duke and the Pirate Queen, but there’s very little explicitly successful. Though Victoria Janssen offers a promising premise, title, and cover, this Harlequin Spice novel is ultimately entirely bland.