Sunday, May 09, 2010

ROGUES: A review by R.L. Stuemke

Publisher: Solstice Publishing
Adventure Fantasy/Romance (mildly erotic)
Cover by: Dara England
Model: Jimmy Thomas

Three stories, one kind of hero, pirates anyone? Includes the short stories Angel-Fire, Storm-Singer, and The Phantom’s Lair… Historical adventure, and the darker mystery of an ageless vampire who keeps a witch at his side, his protector and his lover through eternity...

A review by R.L. Stuemke

I suspect this is a common occurrence among movie-goers: we see a movie, and find ourselves drawn very, very deeply into its universe, especially the characters – or at least, one character. Drawn in so much, in fact, that we begin to wonder, what made this person? What influenced his or her personality? What didn’t the film tell us? And we create our own explanations, our own theories.

Occasionally, a certain film character invades a writer’s being so strongly that it will end up being adapted for original fiction. For author Denyse Bridger, it is quite obvious that this happened when she met Captain Jack Sparrow, in the three ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films. The first two stories in her pirate anthology, ‘Rogues’, concern pirate caption Jack Stanton, who for all his similarities to Sparrow, still takes on his own personality.

For one thing, there is very little of the supernatural or paranormal in either ‘Angel Fire’ or ‘Phantom’s Lair’. There are pirates, in the Caribbean, and you may hear a familiar accent in the dialogue, but the stories are both quite original. In ‘Angel Fire’, Jack Stanton, stranded in Nassau without a ship of his own, has engaged himself for yet another night with a beautiful, sexy gypsy named Angelique. Expecting the usual purely physical adventure, he isn’t prepared for what Angelique does to him, and is totally surprised when he begins to have very intense, drug-induced, visions.

First, he sees the past, haunting, painful memories, but then things move forward, showing him people he has never met, and at least one person he thought was dead, old friend Commodore Barkley. One convenient scandal cost him that friendship, turning Barkley into an opponent instead. Could Edward possibly still be alive?

Then, the here and now shows up, very loudly – Angelique’s husband, a very large, very angry brute, storming up toward his wife’s room – and Jack has to make a rapid exit. He finds a safe bed for the rest of the night in a different tavern, but realizes it’s time to get out of Nassau, and not just to get away from the angry husband. Aha, an old acquaintance has just docked her sloop; could that provide him with transportation? Will it get him to Tortuga, his chosen destination, or will the notoriously unpredictable weather of the Caribbean lead him even further astray?

‘Phantom’s Lair’ picks up an undefined length of time after ‘Angel Fire’. Jack has managed to get his ship back again, but he still remembers his visions and wants his questions answered. His ship also needs some pretty extensive repairs. So Jack ends up on Tortuga, beached on a quiet stretch of shoreline some distance from the notorious port. Here, hopefully he can stay out of the way of Commodore Barkley, definitely still alive, whose own Royal Navy vessel can be seen in port.

Barkley escorted the new Deputy Governor, Joseph Hollinsworth III, and his daughter, the beautiful, headstrong, independent Katheryn, to Tortuga. Hollinsworth was sent here quite specifically to target the pirates who are well known to use the island. Katheryn finds everything about Tortuga fascinating, including the pirates. Barkley is usually quite diligent about hunting the scoundrels, but seems to make an exception for Jack Stanton, now known as ‘The Phantom’.

“[Jack had] had a tentative truce with Barkley for some time now. Edward ‘officially’ hunted him, but never quite caught him. Jack, for his part, seldom did anything that was wholly loathsome enough to warrant a change in their understanding. And, as [Ship’s Mate] O’Hara had just pointed out, there was a time when they had been as close as brothers. The respect between them was genuine, despite the drastic difference in their chosen paths. Barkley had been one of his few allies when he’d been summarily dismissed from the ranks of the Royal Navy years earlier.”

We learn a lot about Jack’s background in ‘The Phantom’s Lair’: how and why he became a pirate, how he lost his late wife AND his ship, to Lucien deBeaupre, now an enemy for life. Along the way, Jack saves Katheryn Hollinsworth from a street attacker and they both recognize a strong attraction. Then, Jack finds out that deBeaupre and his ship, the Fury, are in the area, and he takes his rebuilt Scarlet Thorn off in pursuit. You will need to read the story to learn how that chase goes, and how both Katheryn and Barkley get involved; I can guarantee you’ll enjoy all the action involved.

But that’s not the actual ‘climax’ of this story, which comes when they get back to Tortuga. Katheryn convinces her father that she should have her own residence – an isolated house known, conveniently, as The Phantom’s Lair’ – and she invites Jack to meet with her there. The romance becomes hot, very fast, and its portrayal is extremely well-written, warm and charming, building up to erotic.

"I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this,” she acknowledged in a quiet murmur…. “I want to be your lover, Jack.”

“Katheryn, you have to be certain,” he pressed. “There are men who’ll brand you a whore, or worse, especially any you might later choose to marry.”

“I don’t care, Jack.”

Jack hesitated for another moment, until her hips moved into his, then he caught her mouth in a kiss that conveyed exactly how much he wanted her. The surge of desire that swept through him left him trembling against the curvaceous body pressed so tightly to his and he had to pull back enough to gasp air into his lungs. Her breathing was easily as strained as his, and Jack smiled into the silken hair beneath his chin as he held her to him. The second time he claimed her tempting lips, his caress was gentle and exploring. His hands dropped to her slender waist, then began to glide upward over the lithe muscles of her back, as his tongue entwined with hers, tasting again the warmth that had taunted him so often in his daydreaming. She was clinging to him and he answered the restless thrust of her hips with his own movement, pleased at the shudder of response that rippled through her.”

That is just the beginning of their physical relationship, which gets hotter by the paragraph! So, is there a final resolution? Will Katheryn be able to persuade her father to help clear Jack’s name? Will Edward Barkley help them? Oh, there are plenty of questions, some of which are not completely answered by the end of the story, which begs one final question: Denyse, will we ever find out how what actually happens to Katheryn Hollinsworth, Edward Barkley, and, most importantly, Captain Jack Stanton? Of course, you realize she could give us the answer in a completely unexpected way!

Now, step away from the Caribbean. From Earth, actually. The third story in Denyse’s pirate anthology is completely different, and completely original. ‘Storm Singer’ is erotic dark fantasy, taking place in the Rim Rocques, a world of separate island kingdoms whose trading ships are constantly threatened by the pirate lord Jaden of the Isle of Nyx. Jaden is not simply a pirate, he is a very powerful vampire, allied to Arrah, the Storm Singer, a beautiful were-witch. As the story opens, the alliance of the Rim nations is planning a mysterious attack on Jaden, with a young princess volunteering to sacrifice herself for the goal of destroying this enemy.

Ordinarily, in the majority of stories with this general theme, the emphasis would be on the ‘heroic’ efforts of Princess Sarita. In ‘Storm Singer’, however, the emphasis is almost totally on Jaden and Arrah, and their strangely potent love-hate relationship. So instead of sympathizing with Sarita, you care more about, well, I guess I have to call them the villains. Their romance definitely grabs your interest from the very start.

“Arrah contained her wrath, pushed it into the darkest corner of her soul, as she concentrated on the binding harmony she was weaving with the winds. Power surged within her, and she breathed in the sweet, pure essence of earth-force, captivated now by the mystical rapture that the music stirred and sent spiraling into the night.

Waves rose and battered the ebony shores of the Isle of Nyx, their crashing voice another rhythm of power in the enchantment. The winds coalesced, added their resonant wail to the euphony of sounds that filled the air, and she shuddered, savage spirit attuned to the maelstrom of forces that engulfed her. She shifted the tone of her song, weaving greater torrents of madness into the music, and the night darkened further.

With the blackness came vision.

And Jaden.”

And to continue this intriguing relationship, which is the strength of the story:

“The ties that bound them were complex and often intangible, It was rare that Jaden entered into physical contact with her, their natures were too much alike at times, and they had, on occasion, actually hurt each other in their hungry passion. Yet, each time he did come to her in his corporeal form, her heart felt like it grew wings.
Dark, ebony eyes filled her vision, the expression in the Shadowy depths one of expectancy and mild amusement. One perfect eyebrow rose, emphasizing the wordless anticipation of her reaction.


He caught her, held her pressed firmly to him. His hands tangled in the long, wet strands of red and black hair that streamed over her shoulders in disarray. He ached for her in a way he hadn’t known possible before her, and the brief taste of her blood, and her love, had only teased his hunger, not sated it. He picked her up and carried her into the nearby bedchamber.”

Jaden and Arrah’s devotion to each other makes you take their side, and pray not for Sarita’s success, but her failure – despite a natural sympathy for her doomed crew. Oh, you will feel some sympathy for the young princess too, especially when you realize how she is being used, but you still do not want to see Jaden defeated, and Arrah left alone. If it is not possible for both Jaden and Sarita to survive, who would you choose?

Exactly what is the nature of Sarita’s sacrifice? Her trap is devious and powerful, taking advantage of Jaden’s greatest weakness. Can Arrah’s powers counter those the princess has been granted? Who will survive this contest? Learn the answers to these questions, and through Denyse’s beautiful language, feel the emotional and physical power that keeps bringing Jaden and Arrah together.

There. Hopefully, I’ve given you plenty of reasons to get hold of ‘Rogues’, by Denyse Bridger – all three stories will grab you, in different but equally powerful ways. Use this link to get your own copy:

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