Branded Ann by Merry Shannon
This book isn't for everyone. It's gritty, very gritty. Unlike most lesbian fiction where a main character starts out evil then immediately their true heart-of-gold comes out when they meet their true love, Captain Ann is a cold-blooded, ruthless pirate, and remains so throughout the book. Even when dealing with Violet, she doesn't soften. Eventually, we are allowed to see what motivates her and in some cases it is surprising. Actions that we would believe unimaginably cruel she finds to be difficult but necessary and sometimes even compassionate.
As the story unfolds, we begin to learn more about the two main characters, Captain Ann and Violet. Every person is a composite of their own experiences, and this is quite true in this book. Both appear at first to be quite simplistic. Slowly their layers are exposed to the reader, but only to the reader. Each layer is carefully pealed away. I said that Captain Ann remains a cold-blooded, ruthless pirate - but that's not entirely true. They both change over the course of the story. Yet every change follows a natural progression, with reasonable and logical justifications.
One thing I really enjoyed about this story is its intensity. This story had just the right amount of tension to keep me reading, but not so much as to make me check the back of the book to see how it ended. When that happens, I generally find I can't finish the book.
Almost everything that happens is foreshadowed, but only slightly. It was just enough that, in retrospect, you could say "I should have seen that coming;" yet not enough so you knew everything before it happened. In fact, there was only one event that I saw clearly when it was foreshadowed - but that was partly due to the synopsis on the back of the book. Other events took me completely by surprise and, in fact, shocked me.
If I had to include a criticism of this book it would be...
I honestly can't think of any.
This is only Merry Shannon's second book. I found her first to be exceptional as well, but this one completely blows me away. I can only look forward to more books from her.
My standard disclaimer
I only give reviews/recommendations of books I consider exceptional.