Monday with Mildred: “Shell Game”

Shell Game by Benny Lawrence book cover

Shell Game

Sometimes you find a book that blurs the edges around several genres and the author makes it work beautifully. Benny Lawrence has done that with Shell Game, a funny and rousing tale of “quippy bondage lesbian pirates”.

Set in the medieval fantasy world of Kila, a girl finally erupts into passionate combat against the “fifth raiding party in four days” on the tiny fishing village island where Lynn is trying to live a quiet life.

                “He said, ‘My name is Hasak, and I am going to rule these islands.’

                She said, ‘My name is Darren, and I am going to punch you in the nose.’

                And this she did.”

Lynn’s last remaining possession was her patience, and she was all out of that. She ends the day tied to the mast of Darren’s ship, feeling happy and hopeful.

There are several reasons Lynn forces Darren to tie her up, and we don’t learn all of them until much later in the book. Most of the novel is watching the frustrating progress of their relationship, learning how the world of Kila works, and cheering on Darren as she tries to live up to the pirate life Lynn lays out for her. Throughout, the reader is blessed with an abundance of quippy dialogue, not only between Lynn and Darren, but the supporting players, and just a general quippy feeling about the entire novel. That’s not to say it’s all lighthearted fun, though. It is pirates, so there is blood and foul language and heartache and possibly an “Avast!” but I’d have to double check that last.

Lawrence’s worldbuilding is outstanding, making the reader feel immediately at home using standard life-aboard-a sailing-ship tropes interweaved with the history and culture of Kila. We don’t learn a lot about Darren’s and Lynn’s backstory until their adventures lead to some reveals at the end that might leave you shaking your head, as I did the first time I read it. Because this is a book that leaves you wanting to immediately go back to the beginning paragraph – quoted above – to experience it knowing where the heck all that weird behavior was coming from and watch Darren go from one small ship to an arsenal that includes the vessels Name It Yourself This Time and the Oh, Sod Off. Lynn never got around to naming a ship Thundercunt, which I thought was a shame.

Shell Game is at heart a lesbian romance novel, but there are no overtly sexual scenes. The occasional fade to black does hint at the relationship including bondage in their lovemaking, which surprised me until Darren finally asks Lynn “why?” and Lynn replies that it makes her feel “cherished”. You’ll have to read the book to really understand that, unless you’re accustomed to topping from the bottom on a pirate ship, in which case just read it for the funny stuff. There’s a lot of that. The epilogue is one of the better book endings I’ve read in a while, so you could say it’s good from beginning to end.

The video attached to this review is for the sequel to Shell Game, Beggar’s Flip, which gives you even more of the Lynn and Darren story, with some great new characters added. Still quippy, the story is a little more harsh the second go round with some surprising violence that shook my Disney-childhood world. Though the video, made by the author her own self while quarantined is for the second book, it’s still a great introduction to Shell Game.

If you’re in the mood for quippy bondage lesbian pirates, please do read this book, and then you’ll be forced to read the next one because it’s excellent as well. The world of Kila is anything but pleasant, and Lynn and Darren’s life together is rarely easy, but you will find yourself chuckling at their antics quite a bit, as well as invested in their lives and goals.

LINKS: 

Shell Game Sequel: Beggar’s Flip: The Trailer

CFR: In Addition: And now for THE BEST MOST HILARIOUS PAPER AND LOW TECH TRAILER EVAR MADE!  Mildred shared the above video with me and then I begged her to write a review. OMG. So funny. Well done Benny!!! Thanks Mildred!!!

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