Rating - ⭐⭐⭐
"Never trust a pirate.
The Blood Bell tolls, marking the death of the pirate king and the start of the Trials—a heart-stopping competition where the reward is the Bone Crown. Only one contender can claim the coveted island throne; each will gamble life and limb to win.
Captain. Sister. Maiden.
Csilla Abado yearns to prove her strength to the seasoned pirates who balk at her youth and to her elder sister who has always craved Csilla’s captainship. She will risk everything to become the first pirate queen, no matter the cost.
Dealer. Son. Legacy.
Kane Blackwater wants to leave behind the dirty gold and shady trades he’s made to keep his father’s ship, the Iron Jewel, alive. The Trials represent a new beginning—yet rumors of a secret heir are swirling, threatening his hopes of becoming the pirate king.
Stowaway. Daughter. Storm.
Lorelei Penny longs for nothing more than to avenge her mother’s death. Stowing away on the Iron Jewel was supposed to get her closer to the killer, but instead she finds herself caught up in the deadly battle where loyalty and desire collide.
Csilla. Kane. Lorelei. Each on a mission. The sea, however, has other plans. Dark tides are rising, and if they aren’t careful, they’ll surely drown."
Crossbones is an upcoming standalone fantasy novel by Kimberly Vale.
First and foremost I would like to thank Netgalley and Wattpad Books for granting me access to review this book. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an arc, and things may be subject to change for the final release.
This more or less met my expectations. I found that I didn't mind this as it did hit a soft spot as I love a good pirate novel. Was this the most well-crafted story ever though, that would be a no? That is why I said that this met my expectations as I wasn't exactly expecting greatness when it comes to a novel published by Wattpad. Don't get me wrong, I have read a good amount of fantastic stories on Wattpad, granted they were fanfiction though. My expectations for this were based on the track record of previously published books, which didn't exactly have great receptions.
The concept and the plot were okay, again nothing spectacular, but nothing horrible. My main crux with the novel comes with a name, or several in fact. The characters and their development, or rather lack of it, were by far the weakest point of the entire book, and it did kind of ruin most of the potential it could have had. Let's get into the details, shall we?
For the most part, I don't have any major issues with the writing as I found it to be easy to digest. There were some issues with the font not being consistent, but I will give the book the benefit of the doubt as this is an arc and will assume that it would be fixed for the release. Another minor detail I wasn't a big fan of was the extension of the words when spoken by Magnus, making him sound like a snake. It was rather awkward to have to read those words in my head.
As for the format of the book, this is a multi-pov with the story being told through the eyes of three characters. I don't think it was necessary to have this many perspectives, but I will talk more about that in the characters section.
Overall, the plot really isn't bad and is rather straightforward. When the king of Cerulia dies and rumours of a possible heir is circling, pirate crews are called forward to participate in trials for the Bone Crown. It was an interesting enough premise, but it was ultimately bogged down due to the characters whose stories you follow. The book starts with a scene that is fitting for a pirate story but unfitting in terms of clarity. I thought there was a lot of context that was needed at the beginning that was missing. There is a lot of history between the characters that we don't really get to know much about it which ends up affecting their dynamics and stories.
One issue I had with the plot was its pacing as it did take a good amount of time for things to get moving. A lot of time was spent introducing the characters and building up the different storylines rather than moving towards the main conflict. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but this could have benefited from picking up the pace a bit as the story gets a bit dragged down with all the added story. In a similar fashion, the time skips present an issue as well. When skipping between character perspectives, a certain amount of time would pass. These gaps in between leave a lot of questions as you are then missing a part of each character's story.
Another issue with the plot was its predictability. While not every book has to have plot twists that catch you off guard, it does ruin the reading experience a bit when the reader is ahead of the characters. It was rather obvious where the direction of the plotline regarding the heir would go, among other details. To be a bit nitpicky, I also wasn't a big fan of how, for the most part, the plot moved forward due to dramatically bad decisions that could have been avoided. The ending also left a lot to be desired. It was convenient, rather cheesy, and unsurprising but unsatisfactory.
I thought that the world-building in this story wasn't bad at all, especially for a standalone. A lot of standalones suffer from either building a world that is too complex, or not complex enough. This hits a nice balance right in between. We are introduced to an expansive world full of creatures and a religious system as well. A good enough job was also done explaining the lore whenever a new creature was mentioned.
What I would have liked, however, was for it to include more of the world into the story. Certain creatures like dragons and the kraken were mentioned that piqued my interest, but they had no involvement in the story.
There was a severe lack of complex character development both individually and between characters. We follow a decently large cast of characters, but our main characters are Csilla, Kane, and Lorelei. Every character just fell really flat to the point where the emotions they were feeling didn't feel genuine and felt more like a bad performance. We also didn't get specific descriptions of the characters which was a huge problem for me as I was then unable to properly picture them as I read. Now let's move onto the main characters.
Lorelei's character at best made no sense to me and, at worst, annoyed me. When you are introduced to her, she has been living a bit of a solitary life with her mother as, what I would presume to be, a peasant (if that is the right word in this case). The actions that she manages to successfully pull off make no sense for someone of her upbringing and I found that they didn't match her character. It felt like her character was stuck between two different people and couldn't meet in the middle. Half of the time spent reading from her perspective was spent in disbelief as to how she was getting away with what she was doing. The other half was spent very annoyed by her reckless and impulsive behaviour.
It is not a sign of a well-written character when you actively want a character to be killed off rather than her achieving her goals. For the entirety of the book, she was more or less useless and kept getting in the way. For some context, without giving away any spoilers, her character can be summed up by one particular scene in the book when she expressed that she could take care of herself, and then proceeds to trip over a log and fall on her face. She was more of a walking cliche than a fully fleshed-out character. I wish that her story was given a different direction and that she had more presence as besides annoying me, she didn't stand out at all as a character.
In all honesty, while her character is pivotal to the story, I could have done without her POV entirely. It would have been better off with having Kane's perspective alone where you get her story through his eyes as Kane, out of the three, was the most interesting character. He wasn't perfect by any means and did lack some personality, but at least his gruffness was able to keep me the tiniest bit interested in his story.
Now let's move on to some side characters, starting with Rhoda who is Csilla's sister. I was not a huge fan of her character, not in the sense that I didn't like her (even though I didn't), but because her entire arc was directionless as she was used in order to fulfill another character's arc. Flynn was another character whose arc also felt directionless. His character was completely hinged on Csilla, and thus he also didn't feel like his own individual character.
Setting aside Rhonda and Flynn, some of the characters I thought were more interesting than the main characters, which is a bit sad. Borne, Arius and Nara were far more intriguing and had way more personality than the rest of the characters. Arius, for example, was the comedic relief which really worked as I enjoyed his quips and nuances.
In order for a story to have good motion and motive, you need to have a good villain that can propel the characters into achieving their goal. Unfortunately, the villain aspect wasn't the greatest. Rove was a decent antagonist as he was simply just a bad guy, but my issue is with Magnus. I am not a fan of villains who are absent for the majority of the book. I want my villain to be present and actively doing things, and not just whispering in people's heads. He also didn't have enough backstory to solidify his character as being a fully fleshed-out villain.
Finally, I will talk about the relationships between the characters. The tension between Csilla and Flynn was known since the beginning, but their relationship suffered more than just what was on-page. We are aware that they have a long history between them, but because of the point in which the story starts, we miss a good chunk of their relationship and are thus missing the connection the reader needs in order to connect with them.
Comparing that to Kane and Lorelei, they are more believable as you get to see them meeting for the first time and see their relationship develop. That being said though, I still didn't believe in their relationship either. It felt more like they were strangers whom the author was trying to force feelings onto both them and the reader. There was just no chemistry between them and even though we got to see them get to know each other, I felt like they didn't actually do so.
There was not much about this book that had any impact on me or made me feel emotional. It checked off my box for pirates but severely lacked in the character department, which was a disappointment as this leaned more towards being character-focused than plot-focused. Would I still suggest that you give this a shot, yes? It was still enjoyable to read despite my issues with it.