This post includes reviews of the books in the Baal’s Heart Series:
- Caged (#1)
- Sacrificed (#2)
- Fated (#3)
- Careened (#3.5)
Caged: Love and Treachery on the High Seas (Baal’s Heart #1)
I’ve never read a pirate romance before, and Deckard sets a high bar for any I read in the future. Outside of the engrossing plot and intriguing characters, one of the things that I most enjoyed about this particular book is that it is not set in our world. Elements of it are familiar, but the unique setting allowed me to immerse myself in this story like any fantasy world, even though nothing overtly fantastical occurs. Baltsaros, Tom, and the rest of the Baal’s Heart crew are also essentially a fantasy world for our hero Jon, who is swept away from his “normal” life. Though he starts this journey as a kidnap victim, the connection between him and Baltsaros is undeniable, even before the pirate captain saves his life.
On the romance side of things, Deckard presents a fascinating dynamic between three characters. Any other book might have drawn out a dull love triangle, but here, Jon is the missing piece needed by both pirates. Of course, Jon is kept on his toes (as are readers) by the plot-twisting reveals about Baltsaros and Tom every time he thinks he has a handle on the other two men. I especially appreciated that neither of his pirates is a traditional romantic hero by any means, which is clear from Baltsaros’ point of view. The man is either a psychopath or a sociopath (or both), and his bonds with Jon and Tom are not a love story but still manage to be packed with emotion (that Baltsaros may or may not be capable of experiencing).
These three men do not exist in isolation, however. Deckard populates the rest of the ship (and this world) with secondary characters, including women, who are just as interesting as the main three. I appreciated that Jon develops friendships outside of his ties to Baltsaros and Tom because it makes for a more well-rounded and engaging story. I also loved that Jon does not magically become an amazing pirate by the end of this book and is even relegated to a support role during the climactic finale. These elements of realism ground this story so that the relationship storylines become all the more fantastical.
This book ends on a solid note with a complete narrative arc, but Deckard makes it clear that this is not the end of the story. I look forward to seeing how this relationship evolves and what additional trouble my new favorite pirate crew can get into along the way.
Sacrificed: Heart Beyond the Spires (Baal’s Heart #2)
The adventure continues as our three favorite pirates journey beyond the edge of the known world. But first, the trio must fully reconcile from the rift that almost tore them apart at the end of the first book. I loved how Deckard interweaves current moments with flashbacks to bring us fully to the present. This author has a true talent for switching narratives smoothly while never diminishing the tension of the emerging plot. This skill is especially important as events unfold in this book.
The continued relationship drama is not the angst of a typical love triangle, where Baltsaros and Tom vie for Jon’s affections. It is clear that only the three men together can balance their needs, but the way each of these men evolves throughout the book also keeps this from being a stagnant sort of inevitability. Secrets are revealed on all sides that affect their individual and overall relationships. All this is on top of the dynamic external plot that finds the men involved at the highest levels of an empire soaked in blood and death even beyond piratical comfort levels. Baltsaros seeks answers to questions he hides even from himself, which gets him into more trouble than Jon and Tom ever expected.
Deckard’s talent for character and worldbuilding again shines in this book with strong secondary characters and fascinating new environs. He continues to evoke familiar elements from our world with unique twists that create a near-fantasy world rooted in the practicalities of life (even a pirate’s life).
This middle-trilogy book does not end in a cliffhanger, but it’s obvious that the current status quo teeters on a knife’s edge. This series is not just about Jon’s character development, and I look forward to seeing how the relationship dynamic continues to evolve.
Fated: Blood and Redemption (Baal’s Heart #3)
I devoured this book in a single day because I’m low-key obsessed with these three ridiculous pirates. Baltsaros undergoes some pretty significant character development as he heals from the (slightly self-inflicted) mental trauma incurred in Sacrificed. Deckard takes this in an interesting direction because the captain is definitely still a bit of a sociopath, even if he’s slightly more in touch with his emotions now. Jon may have been the original one to balance the relationship between Tom and Baltsaros, but it’s clear the captain is just as necessary to their trio as the two younger men stumble along without him. In this book, everyone makes their share of relationship screw-ups, which Deckard interweaves throughout the external storyline by involving more of his well-crafted secondary characters.
The Baal’s Heart crew does return home at the middle of this story, but events don’t end there. A final trip is taken to bring Baltsaros’ life full-circle and hopefully finish his journey of healing. On the surface, the captain’s original home is much more welcoming than the blood-soaked city they found in the previous book. However, it hides a dark secret that catches Baltsaros, Jon, and Tom in its web. Deckard completely surprised me by the final reveal but in that fun way that makes perfect sense in retrospect. Unfortunately, there’s not much else fun about the finale for our heroes.
Overall, this trilogy is a series of difficult moments strung together by the growing love and affection (or the versions of which Baltsaros is capable) between the three main characters. It is, in turn, heartwarming and gut-wrenching, but all in the best ways possible. It is far from a dark romance, despite the “origin stories” of each man, but the author does not shy away from the brutal realities of life in the era of pirates, even in this alternative world he has placed them. I would not hesitate to read more about these characters or this world should Deckard ever return to them.
Careened: Winter Solstice in Madierus (Baal’s Heart #3.5)
I stayed up way too late to finish the last of this series, and I regret nothing. It takes place after the main trilogy, and should definitely be read after that to avoid significant spoilers. This is important: Deckard could have made this a feel-good bit of holiday fluff, but he instead acknowledges the trauma our pirates have undergone. Jon is in desperate need of healing, and the events of this sweet story make a good start in that.
Do I want another glimpse in the future where Jon, Tom, and Baltsaros live happily (and kinkily) ever after? Absolutely. However, this epilogue of sorts was much more emotionally fulfilling as a reader and leaves me with the solid hope that these ridiculous three men will get there eventually.