Running Close to the Wind

A swashbuckling quest, dangerous sea serpents, and an almost literally cutthroat cake competition bedevil a pirate crew in Running Close to the Wind, a raucous, banter-heavy fantasy adventure by Alexandra Rowland (A Taste of Blood and Iron).

Unapologetically libidinous intelligence agent Avra Helvaçi has become a man who knows too much. Fleeing to the open sea lands him in the metaphorical lap of the dread pirate Captain Teveri az-Ḥaffār, his perpetually irritable ex-lover. Avra, who needs Teveri "to be incredibly heroic and rescue the shit out of [him]," bargains desperately using his only asset: stolen copies of a classified recipe that lets the dominant navy sail safely past sea serpents during their long and aggressive mating season. Teveri, Avra, and the crew stake their honor and lives on a dangerous mission to test the concoction. They're joined by unfairly attractive, unfortunately celibate revolutionary-turned-monk Julian, who provides scientific knowledge and serves as an object of universal sexual yearning. The pirates can sell the recipe for an exorbitant sum if it works, but if it fails, their deaths will be "unpleasantly teethy."

Fans of Our Flag Means Death may appreciate this queer, sex-positive piratical comedy with fantasy elements that include glowing blue dogs, turtles the size of islands, and a hero with a possibly supernatural gift of luck. The novel's world-building is peppered with religious and political tensions that don't distract from the personal struggles of the leads, and the colorful supporting cast provides a level of zaniness reminiscent of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. Laughter off the starboard bow! --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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