Friday, June 22, 2018

Kat's Review: Contraband Hearts

Contraband Hearts by Alex Beecroft
Publisher: Riptide Publishing (April 28, 2018)
Series: Porthkennack Series, 10
Genre: Historical Romance -- M/M

His future depends on bringing the smuggler to justice. His heart demands to join him.

Customs officer Peregrine Dean is sent by his patron to investigate rumors of corruption in the Porthkennack customs house. There he is tasked by the local magistrate to bring down the villainous Tomas Quick, a smuggler with fingers in every pie in town. Fired with zeal and ambition, and struck to the core by his first glimpse of Tomas, Perry determines to stop at nothing until he has succeeded.

Tomas Quick is an honest thief—a criminal regarded by the town as their local Robin Hood. He’s also an arrogant man who relishes the challenge posed by someone as determined and intelligent as Perry. Both of them come to enjoy their cat-and-mouse rivalry a little too much.

But the eighteenth century is a perilous time for someone like Perry: a black man in England. Two have already disappeared from the wrecks of ships. Tomas and Perry must forsake their competition and learn to trust each other if they are to rescue them, or Perry may become the third victim.

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Kat's Review:

I really enjoy reading m/m historical romance. It’s nice to see history populated with folks who were undoubtedly present, though rendered by time relatively invisible via conventional metrics and texts. Even better, Alex Beecroft’s Contraband Hearts features Peregrine (Perry), a Black Englishman whose mother was a slave and is himself trying to be seen as a Freeman, just like any other man.

Unfortunately, he’s also a customs agent, not a position to be in if you want people to like you, especially when posted to a coastal town that receives a not insignificant boost to their economy via smuggling. Our other MC, Tomas, is indeed a smuggler, but also a man who is fighting to resolve his own identity crisis. That Perry and Tomas are in similar straits is of course no coincidence, but Perry is determined to follow the letter of the law (if not the spirit) and it takes him a while to come around to accepting his feelings for the 18th century Robin Hood.

There are a few different mysteries happening throughout the story. Slavery is illegal in England Proper, but in her colonies, especially the West Indies, it’s a different story. Thus the appearance of a human trafficking to slavery pipeline is incredibly troubling to Perry, who is forever finding himself in situations that require a rescue.

The town of Porthkennack is well-rendered and full of interesting people, both folks you’d want to share a pint with and folks you’d want to punch in the face. The town is managed by the wealthy Quick family, a group of snobby tossers who are each variably punchable. Tomas has his own connection to the family, and his own reasons to be bitter toward them, detailed in another (though related) plot thread.

While I enjoyed the book once I was done, it was partly because I was glad to have the mysteries solved. Beecroft’s writing is full of descriptions of everything and written in a style that is more reminiscent of 19th century authors. It took me a while to get into the cadence and language, but once I did, the story was easier for me to get into. It’s also very apparent that Beecroft has extensive knowledge of sailing and ships and boats. I’m not sure what’s up with my choosing books that go into a lot of esoteric detail about Things I Don’t Really Care About, but this was certainly in line with that trend.

Perry and Tomas have an instant attraction, though they don’t actually meeting and spend much time together until past the 30% mark. There isn’t much description in the way of sex, which was a bit disappointing, though the sweetness of the final scene almost makes up for it.

So, really, the biggest hindrances to my enjoyment of the story was the lack of accessibility in the prose and the lack of relationship development on the page (though there certainly was a lot of angst and brooding while they were apart). Also the sailing. Too much sailing. However, these stories are so important. Seeing Black men as heroes in love stories, set in any time, is always worth some of my time.


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Source: NetGalley eARC

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Thanks for the review, Kat! 


Until Next Time,

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