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Friday, May 26, 2017

Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Where Loyalties Lie over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Everybody knows Drake Morrass is only out for himself.

As the fires of a dying city burn on a distant shore, Drake sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Captains under his flag and claim a crown for himself. If he is to succeed he will need allies and the Oracle named Keelin Stillwater, the best swordsman in the isles, as Drake's right hand. With enemy ships sailing his waters and setting fire to his cities, and the sinister Tanner Black threatening to steal the throne before Drake has even sat in it, Drake must somehow convince the other Captains that his best interests are also theirs.

Author Rob J. Hayes, after his successful completion of his award-winning grimdark trilogy, The Ties That Bind, now continues the saga of First Earth.

FORMAT/INFO: Where Loyalties Lie is divided into four parts which are spread out over fifty-seven ship titled chapters with a titled prologue and an epilogue. The narration is in third person omniscient via Drake Morass, Keelin Stillwater, Elaina Black, T’ruck Khan, Damien Poole, first mate Princess & Arbiter Beck. This book is the first volume of the Best Laid Plans duology and can be read as a starting point to the First Earth saga.

May 26 2017 marks the US and UK e-book publication of Where Loyalties Lie and is being self-published by the author. Cover art is by Alex Raspad & cover design is provided by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: Focusing on a wide character cast of pirates and epic sea battles, Where Loyalties Lie is the grimdark version of Pirates Of The Carribbean if imagined by Joe Abercrombie.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Rob J. Hayes is an author who appeared on to my radar when I read his debut The Heresy Within a little over 4 years ago. Since then after reading & thoroughly savoring the rest of his debut trilogy, I was simply convinced of his ample talent and the mysteries that were abundantly present in the First Earth world. This new duology has been delayed for over a year and the author has talked about the reasons over here on his blog. He even has provided a timeline of events and thankfully the author was able to get back the rights to these books and here we are with the first book. Before I start my review, for full disclosure I was an alpha/beta reader for this book and its sequel.

The book begins with a pirate town burning and Drake Morass’s pirate crew watching it along with their captain. Pretty soon the news spread and the pirates are wary of being hunted, among one such pirate captain is Keelin Stillwater. A person with a secret past who is hunting for a specific thing, Keelin is one of the rare pirates that chooses to avoid bloodshed whenever possible. He’s the exception among the seas where brutality & betrayal seems the norm. Both these pirate captains are gunning for something and they will have to strive to overcome their mutual distrust for their survival. We also meet Elaina Black, daughter of feared pirate Tanner Black and a dangerous person on her own. Elaina is running for her own deal however has to be careful of fraternal jealousy. Following up on the POV list we have a few other characters such as Arbiter Beck, Captain T’ruck Khan, Princess (who’s a guy) and a few others. They don’t get the same amount of page time but they are very, very interesting none the less.

The main focus of the story is one of ambition, betrayals and plotting. All of this occurs via the characters and namely Drake Morass is situated in front and center of this story, Drake was a minor but important character in the previous trilogy and his background actions fueled a lot of the plot twists. This duology though stands separate from the events of the previous trilogy and while it shares a few characters from the previous work (who made minor cameos in the books). New readers can easily pick up these books and will be snared up in the events. Drake again is in the thick of things and we begin the book with him and we end with him as well.

The characters are what make this story come alive in a very visceral way, beginning with our two main POV pirate captains Drake Morass and Keelin Seawater. Who couldn’t be more different than each other, Drake is calculating at all times but can be bloodthirsty, enigmatic and certainly the most feared person on sea. Keelin on the other hand is driven by his past and will do almost anything except irrationally murder folks. These two characters are what fuel the narrative as we find out what reasons might force them to work together. Let’s be clear Drake is the biggest enigma of this series and possibly one of the biggest in this world wherein most things are unknown or hidden. Drake’s exploits while being legendary are also grim. They make him out to be a monster but a good-looking and charming one at that. In this book we get to see all of his personas. The cruelty, the tall tales (that sound implausible but hold more than a ring of truth), the vicarious nature of his plots which almost always pan out as he planned and his daredevilry at accomplishing his lofty goals (some of which are laid bare within this duology). He’s the main engine for the plot of this book and manages to be a scene-stealer all the way. On one level while the readers will be horrified by his actions, on a pure character note, he is impossible to ignore.

Keelin Stillwater has a lot to live up to and the readers will get to read all about his past as well as the internal struggle he fights. Keelin has previously appeared in a small bit in The Price Of Faith but unless one is eagle-eyed you will most likely not picked up on it. Keelin is a good mirror to Drake and it’s fun to compare them both. The biggest surprise is Elaina Black who along with Arbiter Beck and T’ruck Khan are the dark horses of this story. They start out as small characters but by their actions at the end of the book become core characters. The author has even written a short story focusing on Beck and Elaina Black which acts as a prequel (to this duology) and a nice introduction to the pirates. Every character introduced is someone that’s fully fleshed and you want to read more about them. I think that’s the hallmark of a good writer and Rob J. Hayes is certainly fulfilling that mark.

Another thing about this story is because it focuses on pirates, it also shines a light on characters that don’t always show the best aspects of humanity. This story is filled with violence, betrayals and visceral surprises. About the first aspect, truly no one is safe in this story and the violence is quite interspersed within the story and we get various scenes that will horrify readers but make sense within the confines of the story. However I must warn readers that there’s one scene involving Tanner Black and Elaina Black which will shock you beyond anything. It’s a very disturbing scene and one that’s present to showcase the terror and disgust. Tanner Black makes Tywin Lannister seem like a doting parent & that’s saying something. The action sequences are almost always over water or feature some terrific scenes of ship boarding. In the previous trilogy, the action was more on a personal level however with this book, Rob J. Hayes certainly exalts things to a grand level. The best action scenes are ones featuring T’ruck Khan and I believe he’s a character that will be imprinted a lot on readers’ minds.

The pace of the story and the plot twists will keep the readers hooked and engaged throughout. One of the things that surprised me about this book was the love story within it. To be fair there’s two love stories going on (neither of them in the classical way) but if you really want to get down to brass tacks, they can be called as such. Let me be clear, the romance isn’t the focus of the story in the least. As a reader I just happened to notice it and found it funny to compare both those threads. The book ends on a solid note and because this is a duology, we can expect the next book (The Fifth Empire Of Man) to end things in a brutal manner as all the plots come to a head.

Lastly what I also loved about this book, was the action and the epic battles. This book is possibly one of the best nautical fantasy ones that I’ve ever read. The only other titles that I can think which come close are Paul Kearney’s Sea Beggars series and his Monarchies Of God series (which featured quite a lot of sea action as well). There’s also the Red Skies Over Red Seas by Scott Lynch but this book obliterates them all by being almost entirely set on water (or surrounded by it) for about 95% of the time. Sure there are events which take on land but these are mostly tiny islands which are out in the open seas. The next best thing about the book is the world that’s featured in the books. I loved the First Earth world introduced in The Ties That Bind trilogy but with this duology, the author showcases a very, very different aspect with the Pirates and the seas. He even manages to give us a look in to the magical side of things with the sea goddess Rin & the Drurr. The First Earth world is a complex one and it’s very much evident from this book that how much time the author has invested in crafting it. Eagle-eyed readers will even catch references to events happening around in the wilds and to the author’s short story “Pre-Emptive Revenge featured in the GrimDark Magazine.

Drawbacks to me were next to none as this is the first volume and I felt that this book can serve as an excellent starting point to Rob J. Hayes’ violent & exciting First Earth saga. I must point out that this book is quite grim (but not bleak) and very, very violent. There’s one really graphic sexual violent scene that’s sure to raise hackles for some but it’s not there to titillate and makes sense from a story & character point of view. Overall I feel that this book is one that explores pirates quite unlike any other fantasy books I’ve read so far in the genre.

CONCLUSION: Rob J. Hayes recently mentioned how long it took for him to release this book for no fault of his. As a friend, I can very well vouch for his frustration at that. However as an unbiased reader, I have to say this is the first time when anybody has so successfully merged two different sub-genres of fantasy to give us a story that’s very, very good. Where Loyalties Lie is the perfect fusion of Grimdark and epic nautical fantasy that you never thought possible. Check this book out as I've a feeling that it will be one that readers will be talking about a lot more in the months to come.


CTPhipps said...

Great review, Mihir Wanchoo!


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