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Friday, June 20, 2014

The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate: Looking For Egalitarianism in an M/M Fantasy

A few years ago, I went to a reading by fantasy and science fiction author Jane Lindskold, and she expressed how unhappy she was about the amount of royalism and other types of anti-democratic attitudes that she found in epic fantasy. This caused me to realize how uncomfortable I was with all the emphasis on kingship or achieving high rank. Few medieval type epic fantasy writers questioned the values of this sort of society. Like Lindskold, I wanted to see epic fantasy that reflected democratic values--a society where people succeed by merit rather than inherited wealth or marriage into a wealthy aristocratic family. If not that, I wanted to see characters who were opposed to the injustice of medieval society, or were engaged in some sort of alternative lifestyle that was more egalitarian. Maybe they might be pirates.

I've read material about the democratic practices of pirates similar to this article . Other writers say that the conventional view of pirates as bloodthirsty and unprincipled is more accurate. I imagine that both are true. Some pirate captains were elected by their crews, treated their crews decently and had a code of ethics about the treatment of captives. Others were probably just as ruthless as Captain Hook in Peter Pan. Yet consider that the Captain was only one man. If the entire crew was unhappy with their treatment, they could easily band together to remove him. Pirate Captains who were as authoritarian as the Captains in the British Navy wouldn't last long.

So the resources that I encountered which portrayed pirates as revolutionaries piqued my interest in The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate by Kay Berrisford. Some quick research on this author uncovered a previous novel about Robin Hood called Lord of the Forest which I will definitely need to read in the near future. This prior history led me to suspect that Berrisford and I have a similar perspective on certain types of outlaws as avatars of justice. This is why I downloaded an ARC of The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate for review from Net Galley.


As an m/m novel, this book does contain homoeroticism which I need to mention so that readers will understand that the book is for mature readers who are interested in such content.

Raef, the Merman protagonist, isn't human. Yet he represents human readers who were taught conventional ideas about evil pirates, but whose views about pirates evolve over the course of the narrative as we come to know pirate Captain Jon Kemp.

The culture of the Merfolk is portrayed as authoritarian with clan leaders who expect to be obeyed. It occurs to me that authoritarians want to suppress the idea that there can be any other viable social structure.  Those who question authority eventually come to the conclusion that there are alternatives which causes them to be marginalized within their society. This is what happens to Raef. His life path quickly diverges from his people which sets him on course for his m/m destiny.

I had only one minor quibble about Raef's background development. His mother wears "an anthracite jewel" which is supposed to be heavy. Anthracite is a type of coal.  A lump of coal isn't particularly heavy, nor is it a sparkling gem. I couldn't imagine why a mermaid would wear coal when pearls would be so much more accessible to her, and would be much more of an enhancement of her beauty.

Aside from that error, The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate was an engaging airplane read which filled the hours of travel between New York and San Francisco, and caused them to pass quickly for me. If you are a reader who enjoys narratives where justice is served along with a happily ever after ending, you will be doubly pleased by the way the story resolves.


                                                  Gold Venetian Mask
                              Courtesy of Victor Habbick