by Merry Shannon
This isn't a book for starry eyed romance readers, apart from the frequent murder, rape (although never 'on screen', and this is the one thing Branded Ann draws the line at on her ship and in herself), foul mouths and living conditions, both main characters are more antihero than hero. Branded Ann is a murderer and a thief, with some nasty hidden desires, and even more hidden compassion, while Violet is outwardly perfect, but inwardly... not.
Violet is a delicate beauty, named for her stunning eyes, cossetted and treasured by her husband - a man who rescued her from a past you'd never guess to look at her, that equips her to cope with a harsh life among pirates surprisingly well. In compensation - or gratitude - she turned pious, quoting scripture and clinging to her bible. Those around her tend to be somewhat bemused by this - more so by her composure, and they're outright startled by her sudden turns of coarseness. She's also anything but romantic, and takes a long time to consider sex as anything but a transaction.
Branded Ann is a cruel and deadly pirate, who actively preserves a fearsome reputation of cruelty and danger. Bawdy, ruthless, a frequenter of whores, ill tempered and altogether dangerous, she stands tall and can take any man in a fight.While she's respected - even loved - by her crew, they also constantly challenge her authority, whether out of sheer unruliness or active disagreement. She walks a precarious line between unquestioned leader and mutiny, and her actions are a duality of selfish power and a fear of her crew turning on her. And of course, she has a mysterious past and a rather personal link to the treasure she's seeking.
After a murderous raid, the deadly and dangerous Branded Ann interrogates her husband and widows our delicate heroine. Violet's rare looks and strange attitude captures Ann's interest, and she ends up claiming the girl - and the battle of wills has begun. From then on, the two are locked into a fierce, nearly unspoken contest of wills, unease and hatred, which, like the best passionate burning enmities, becomes increasingly passionate.
The opening scenes were a little overdramatic - but then, this is a pirate novel, and the characters are colourful creations by necessity, and I got used to it very quickly. After that, Merry Shannon's characters came to life and swashbuckled their way through blood, drink, song and sex. With Violet in the background, scrubbing the decks till her hands were raw.
I'm impressed all over again by the believability of the writing, the ease one becomes immersed - the enormous amount of research the author has clearly done to create a natural seeming, accurate and mesmerising setting. The conflict between Ann and Violet is masterfully drawn, and I was constantly sympathising with each in turn against the other.
Naturally, it won awards:
- Favorite Adventure Book Winner, Lesbian Fiction Reader’s Choice Award 2008
- Historical Fiction Finalist, Foreword Magazine Book of the Year 2008
- Nominated for the Lesbian Romance category, 21st Lambda Literary Awards
You can buy Branded Ann on Amazon as a book ($16) or eBook ($9.99)
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