Series: Daughter of the Pirate King #1
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 28, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Fantasy
Source: print ARC from the publisher
There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.
Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.
More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.
Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?
QUILTBAG: -5 (the single gay character is a villain and he dies; also, the book’s magic system relies on everyone ever being heterosexual)
Is it really so much to ask for if I want a YA fantasy novel free of rape threats and with no superpartiarchy in place? I know there’s plenty of YA fantasy like that out there, but I’m particularly bad at finding them and/or finding them interesting enough to read. I’m a bit fond of pirate books, so why wouldn’t I expect Daughter of the Pirate King to be fun for me?
It wasn’t, reader. It was fun until it got h*ckin homophobic, as @dog_rates might say. Then it wasn’t fun anymore.
The first chapter hooked me pretty well. Alosa being a fearless pirate very willing to kill people, her secret plan to steal a map fragment from her captors while she lets them keep her hostage–that’s the kind of stuff I like to see. She immediately conformed to the Fiery Redhead character archetype, but I had hopes her character would develop. Sadly, it doesn’t, and for being such a clever pirate, it takes Alosa a long time to consider some obvious hiding places on the ship or think about any hidden ones.
Honestly, I was genuinely entertained for most of Daughter of the Pirate King. The content is far from outstanding, but it’s enough to occupy you when you need to whittle some time away. The characters are flat and do a serviceable job fulfilling their roles, such as Draxen being the minor antagonist; Alosa and Riden’s romance is uninteresting but not in-your-face enough to annoy anyone who isn’t into it.
Too bad there are little background reminders that indicate the book might have the dreaded Fantasy Superpatriarchy after all. It’s notable that Alosa is a pirate at all, let alone the captain of a ship full of other pirate women. Draxen and Riden’s ship has no women on board, so Alosa naturally interacts with other women for very little of the novel and fields a litany of rape threats.
Really, it’s a fantasy novel. It’s not that hard to shake things up and not conform to our gender norms.
If you want a book that will surprise you, Daughter of the Pirate King is definitely not what you want. One character’s habit is described so faithfully every time they appear that you’ll figure out their secret. Alosa just kinda throws out the fact she’s half-siren at the halfway point of the book without ever thinking about it for the first half. In case you didn’t know, that kind of reveal really ticks me off.
But most of all, YOU ARE NOT GONNA TELL ME ALOSA HAS NO IDEA WHAT THE THIRD MAP-HOLDER LOOKS LIKE WHEN HER DAD IS SO DESPERATE TO GET ALL THREE MAP PIECES. Her pirate king father would have drilled that information into her head, such is his desire to get all three map pieces and make it to the treasure-rich siren island known as Isla de Canta. But he apparently never educated her on that and thus she has no idea. I CALL NINE KINDS OF BULL ON THAT BASED ON THEIR CHARACTERIZATIONS.
But oh no, we ain’t even at the worst part yet: the homophobia and the magic system’s reliance on everyone ever being heterosexual.
I’m still stunned. Not because Vordan only likes the company of men, but because I’ve never had to use my abilities on his sort. I didn’t realize there are men out there who are immune to that particular talent of mine. And knowing Vordan is one of them makes the cage around me seem more solid somehow. (p. 254)
Let’s dissect this piece by piece.
1) Alosa had no idea gay men existed. ALOSA HAD NO IDEA MEN WHO LIKE MEN EVEN EXISTED. Shush, no one tell her about the asexuals or any identity that sees someone attracted to the same gender (lesbians, bi people, basically all the non-heterosexual groups). God, if she ever finds out about nonbinary or agender people, her skull is gonna burst right open.
2) Did her dad seriously not bring out the gay pirates during his experiments with Alosa’s powers? There can’t be two grown human beings who think only heterosexual people exist, especially if they’re pirates.
3) Do u even know how sirens work yo
Let me expand on that last one.
Sirens can in fact seduce sailors and pirates, as is one of Alosa’s powers, but Levenseller phrases it through Alosa as the pirate princess being able to become the perfect woman for any man. Whatever kind of woman a man is most attracted to, she can easily pick that up and conform to that persona to get what she wants. Innocent country girl, married woman–you name it, she can do it.
But that’s not what sirens have ever been about? In a manner of speaking, they do seduce their listeners with their song, which uses what the listener wants most as a lure. If the listener is a heterosexual man and what they want most is a woman, there you go! But their song will bewitch any listener. Being gay or pan or even asexual will not save you from a siren if you hear them.
For God’s sake, if I were out at sea and heard a siren’s song, they’d be luring me in with my cats! My kitties are what I want most whenever I’m away from them. Maybe the siren would be happy they’d get a break from singing about the typical things people want most, like fame or love.
Plus sirens were singing to men in all the Greek legends just because the Greeks never had any pirate women or enbys on board in the stories. If women or nonbinary people were on board, folklore makes me certain they would have been affected too.
Okay, we’re done with the mythology lesson. With such a fearsome but entirely defeatable power that weaves its spell regardless of the listener’s sexual orientation, Levenseller restructuring it so Alosa can only conform to a given heterosexual man’s preference in women is just sad. Why make heterosexuality a requirement when it never has been? Alosa only discovers Vordan’s preferences shortly before she escapes and he has wax in his ears when she gets out, so he would have been immune anyway. It’s just poor writing.
The book’s one and only gay guy Vordan is a villain and he dies, of course. That’s just the icing on this gross cake. I was willing to give the book three stars until I got to the above quote and then it all went downhill.
If you’ve guessed I won’t be reading the sequel, Daughter of the Siren Queen, you’d be correct. This is the YA pirate novel that Joss Whdeon would write–and if you’ve seen his Wonder Woman script that leaked on line, you should understand that’s not a compliment. If you’re looking for pirates and women being amazing, you’d be better off going for The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie or Steel by Carrie Vaughn. (Don’t tell anyone, but I’d still accept a poster of this book cover if you offered it to me. I’m not gonna deny a cover this gorgeous even with the horror show that lurks beneath it.)