Ok so I snagged the first book during an Amazon promotion without much expectation of what I was going to get. The premise is far more fantasy than reality: Lucas, wounded from being dumped by his girlfriend, is offered a dream job as part of a troupe of actors on a Caribbean island. He'll be paid handsomely to live in a tropical paradise and participate in an erotic pirate show every night. Sounds like fun, right? Except there's a mix-up, and Lucas ends up being cast for the gay pirate show.
Stop rolling your eyes in the back!! I did exactly the same thing. Don't worry, it gets better.
When Lucas realises, he freaks. Obviously. He begs the boss for a part on the straight show, but they've got a full cast and it doesn't look like anyone's going to be leaving anytime soon. The organiser wants to send him home again. Lucas doesn't want to leave. He's living in a beautiful house on a beautiful island and getting paid to sit on a beach all day. Who would leave? He'll just have to go gay for pay.
Problem is, Lucas has to convince Adam, the pirate captain, and - more importantly - Tyler, Adam's bitchy boyfriend. Tyler hates Lucas' guts, and makes no bones of the fact that he wants him gone. Adam wants to jump Lucas' bones, and makes no secret of that fact, either. As long as Lucas does what Adam tells him, he stays. But Adam isn't carrying slackers, he expects Lucas to participate in every aspect of life on the island - on and off stage.
Some of the set-up is fantastic in the extreme. The gay men in the troupe are pretty much in a 12-man relationship with each other. Partners swap left and right without any emotional commitment or jealousy. The only permanent relationship is between Adam and Tyler, but they're not adverse to inviting guests into their bed. Lucas shares a house with the happy couple, and a room with another of the pirates, Kip, who tries to help ease him into the situation he's found himself in. There's weird initiation ceremonies, and Adam's role as captain extends beyond the show and into the pirates' everyday lives. What Adam says, goes.
There's something a bit Lord of the Flies-ish about some of the scenes where the men go wild in the jungle, and perhaps some of the more outlandish behaviour they indulge in is actually on reflection more possible than one would have initially thought. These are young men, after all, living a life of sun, sea, sex and nothing else. That they've built up their bond into something more resembling a cult than a cast is perhaps not that surprising after all.
The thing that I enjoyed most about this story, however, was not the setting or the action, but the slow development of each character's personality. The characterisations are actually very nuanced and well-drawn. Owens gives each man his own idiolect in order to differentiate who is speaking (for example Kip calls everyone 'bro', Ben calls people 'buddy' and Tyler insists on calling Lucas 'new guy').
Adam's the ultimate alpha, on top in every aspect of his life, and something in Lucas responds to the way that the other man dominates him. The sparks literally fly off the page (or out of my Kindle!) when Lucas clashes with Tyler, who shares deeper similarities with the new guy than mere physical resemblance. Kip is just a genuine guy, who feels for Lucas' position and tries to guide him through the culture shock.
Lucas, for his part, does not suddenly turn around and decide that he loves dick. Thank god. I was dreading that most of all. Actually his confusion about the way he reacts to some of what he sees and experiences feel real and very raw. Realising that you're attracted to your own sex isn't something that happens overnight. By the end of the first book, the most Lucas has done is kiss another man while very drunk at a nightclub, and suck beer off Tyler's stomach in a weird exercise in submission to Adam. There are things that Lucas is deeply uncomfortable with, and Adam's and Tyler's pushing keeps him permanently outside of his comfort zone, without ever going that step too far. That the narrative is told in third person focused on Lucas means we get more insight into his thoughts and feelings, ensuring that the reader is reassured that no matter what he says a part of him wants to be pushed, hell, maybe even needs it, which keeps the dub-con content on the right side of assault.
By the second book Lucas has admitted that he's more than curious about having sex with men, but it's still not something he feels ready to rush into. A romance with Ben, one of the other pirates, places him back in his comfort zone. Ben is a nice guy who doesn't want to push him too hard, and provides some welcome relief from the unrelenting pressure put on Lucas by the island's dominant couple. In the second book we learn more about all of the main characters, particularly Tyler, who is rapidly developing into a very sympathetic character. Yes he's an arse, but underneath all the aggression is a great deal of vulnerability, which Lucas inadvertently taps into.
The end of this book takes us back to the jungle, for a strange midnight game with a gay motorbike gang who clash with the pirates at every opportunity. Obstensibly both teams are on a treasure-hunt for a flag, but the real prize - at least to the bikers - is Lucas' virginity. There's a very dark scene where Lucas is captured by Adam's opposite on the bikers' team (actually Adam's ex, who has a point to prove) and help comes from an unexpected source - but is it too late for Lucas' maidenhood? I'm saying nothing.
This is a genuinely enjoyable series of books, with characters that are real and honest. I can't wait for part three.
A Pirate's Life For Me, Book One and Book Two are available from Amazon.