Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes

  • Author: Rob J. Hayes
  • Publisher: [self-published through] CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Published Date: 2017

This is one of 10 finalists in Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO 2017 competition. This particular one was chosen by the folks over at Fantasy Book Review.


I’ll admit to going in completely blind. To put it one way, I walked the plank, dove into the water, and hoped a ticking crocodile wouldn’t come and take my hand. That’s right; this book is full of pirates. Lovable, friendly…er…murdering, thieving, slimy pirates. We aren’t exactly talking about the swashbuckling Jack Sparrow or Hook here. At the start, I do want to say that this book does contain a few graphic scenes of violence, sex, rape, and heavy swearing. Nearly everyone is despicable in this novel in some way or another. And yet the whole thing was quite good.

The book is about pirates doing, well, pirate things. (Well, that’s the end of my summary!) We start small, following two captains and their ships, alternating between chapters: Captain Drake Morrass of The Fortune and Captain Keelin Stillwater of The Phoenix. Stillwater wants to lead his ship into the greatest treasure known to man, but he thinks only Morrass has the charts. Morrass gets assigned an Arbiter named Beck. She is a woman with powerful magic (and 7 pistols) sent by Morrass’s brother to protect him. His brother has the gift of sight, which allows him to see into the future.

To make things even more complicated, there are many other pirates, such as the notable Captain Tanner Black. Black is one of the most feared pirates out there — ruthless and mean. Stillwater, who used to work under Black, would very much like to avoid encounters with Tanner Black. Also, someone is destroying pirate towns, and no one’s quite sure who.

The plot is like the sea. It starts out calm at first. Perhaps there are a few small waves here and there. But then, before you know it, the tide has taken you deep into the middle. A storm has come, and things are chaos. For me, this was the type of book where it seemed like very little was actually happening — only for it to end and me realize this book was packed with action.

The plot shows its many layers gradually. By the time I realized just how complex it was, I was already in too deep.


What really makes this novel, besides the intricate plot, are the characters. We’re talking some morally grey characters. Like charcoal grey. They do despicable things and are unapologetic about it. The inner turmoil that Stillwater goes through is fantastic to read. We see his struggles as he truly reflects on what it means to be a pirate. We see him wrestle with the fantasy image he had as a kid and the person he has turned into as an adult.

Morrass is no different. Throughout the novel we see him slowly break down from a godlike ego to a human being with doubts and fears about his own self preservation. Both Stillwater and Morrass care about their crews, and it shows through their actions. The book does a fantastic job of showing growth and action.

Tanner Black is scum. He’ll kill a man for looking at him. He’ll treat his own children like they’re filth. He’s the type of person you wonder if there’s even an ounce of goodness within. And yet, the book manages to make even him a well-rounded, complex character.

As the plot becomes more complex, so too do the characters. We get chapters from other ships and captains, such as Tanner Black’s daughter, Elaina Black. Soon enough the whole book just becomes overrun with pirates.


Truth be told, we don’t see much of the world, as much of the action takes place on the sea and perhaps in a few towns here and there. That is why it is such a marvel that the world-building is so incredible.

We learn about the world mainly through brief flashbacks and discussions. Although we’re mainly on the sea, there’s still a sense of an entire world out there. We hear hints of characters’ backgrounds and what type of life they might’ve lived before they became pirates.

There are dead men walking, sea monsters, and even a giant spider. (I mean, who would be afraid of a cat?) Like everything else, the world-building and fantastical elements are presented slowly and gradually. The book wants to give you a sense of calm before it plunges you into the darkness of a heavy storm.

So if you’re up for a tale of pirates — ruthless, cunning, charming, despicable pirates — then this is the book for you. After reading it, I can see why it was chosen as an SPFBO 2017 finalist. Well deserved.

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