On the surface, Windfall sounds like exactly the kind of story that I would be into. It has queer characters, pirates, magic, and secret royalty – that’s almost a bingo on Jamie’s bingo card of favorite tropes. And the premise is fantastic, involving a princess hiding secret magic powers falling into the care of a bunch of pirates led by the daughter of the previous (murdered) king. I wanted to like it so much.
Unfortunately, I did not like Windfall as much as I had anticipated. The plot is uneven, a bunch of scenes stitched together haphazardly, semi-related and tying everything together in one disjointed knot. Scenes end abruptly, and moments that I feel should be important are either breezed over or skipped entirely. It’s interesting enough – particularly Rhian’s arc (princess on the run and pregnant) and Liana’s backstory (pirate captain who is secretly royalty) – but at times it was just flat-out boring. Sometimes I found myself skimming.
I could have dealt with a less-than-stellar plot if I found any of the characters interesting or worthwhile, but to be honest, the only character I liked in Windfall was Ameen. He’s one of the POV characters (Liana’s fiancé and one of her officers), which is nice, but I felt like he was underutilized, and I did not like the way Liana treated him. It’s an established relationship (they get engaged at the beginning), and occasionally I found myself wondering why they were together at all.
I do sort of like the irony of a crew on a ship named Windfall constantly getting into trouble.
The book opens with a bunch of soldiers attempting to rape Liana, an act that serves no purpose other than a) to introduce Commander Whyte (which could have been done in any manner of ways) and b) to highlight the misogyny of this world. This is addressed once, when Liana meets Commander Whyte again (he is not the man who attacked her, and is in fact the only soldier involved that she let live), and then never again.
I suspect a lot of aspects of the world are meant to set up the fact that Liana is “not like other women”. She’s a pirate captain! (And amazingly is the only woman on her crew. Like, she’s a female captain and there are no other women in this world who might want to be pirates?) She wears trousers and a hat! She doesn’t want children! This is a book about magic pirates, you could do anything. Please don’t do this.
Not to mention, a lot of the antagonists are just truly awful people. There couldn’t be nuance in any of these characters – Rhian’s uncle and cousin are murderous sociopaths, Liana’s brother-in-law is abusing her sister. It felt very much like they were given these traits so that the narrative could be like, “See? You were right to dislike them!” and ignores the fact that you can dislike characters for any reason, especially when they’re clearly painted as the antagonists.
Also, while I appreciate the fact that the three primary narrators are queer (Liana and Rhian are bisexual, Ameen is asexual – which I was particularly happy about), I didn’t like the way some aspects of the representation were handled. At one point, Liana and Rhian are separate from the others (because of reasons), and there is a scene where Liana is talking to a tavern owner. Rhian gets jealous and leaves; Liana incorrectly assumes that Rhian is worried that Liana has forgotten about Ameen and assures her that she loves him very much. The two then immediately share a charged moment where the feelings are completely out of the blue, especially on Liana’s end.
I’ve seen a few people who were disappointed because this is being touted as a sapphic romance, and it’s not. Both women are in serious relationships with men and seem to genuinely love their partners, even though they are apparently attracted to each other. Perhaps this will be developed more in further books, but if you’re expecting a thrilling lesbian romance, you won’t get it in this one.
In short, this book has potential. The world-building is actually pretty good, even if I didn’t care for any of the characters. If you’re just looking for a fun pirate story, you may be interested in this, but it just didn’t do it for me.
Windfall by Shawna Barnett is published by Hansen House and is currently available wherever books are sold.
*I received an advance copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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