Esmes Indie Highlights/SPFBO: Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J Hayes

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This is a current semi finalist and holy shit was it amazing. I haven’t read a good pirate story in a long time and this one blew me away. Awesome characters, awesome plot, awesome dialogue, fucking gritty (180 fucks given in this book, not for those who don’t like cursing).

I have a lot of good things to say about this one.


The main characters in this story are all pirates from different ships with different captains. Most of the time there’s a tension between these different factions of pirates and at best they are at uneasy peace with each other, at worst they’re slaughtering each other over pirate drama.

But, it looks like something may have to unite them soon because there are ships going from pirate town to pirate town killing everyone, men women and children all slaughtered and then the towns burned.

There are countries in this world known as Sarth and the Five Kingdoms, usually these two countries are at war with each other, but it looks like they are teaming up together to try and purge out the pirates. This kind of thing hasn’t been done in generations, and if the pirates don’t band together under a King they could be wiped out.

There are subplots going on for each of the characters, and it’s really interesting watching their journeys and how they sometimes mix and mingle.

Final Score: 8.5/10



  • Drake – One of the captains, I really liked this character and overall for a pirate he has pretty decent morals, although this is speaking comparatively he’s capable of doing some nasty stuff. He has no problems commanding loyalty, and his goal is to be the new Pirate King that everyone unites under. He tries to build a new safe haven after many towns are burned and spends much of the book trying to gain support for his plans.
  • Keelin Stillwater – Probably my favorite character, he’s also a decent and ‘fair’ pirate, preferring to spill as little blood as possible when taking over ships. He has a connection with another pirate, Elaina, the daughter of the biggest assholes to grace a page, Captain Tanner Black.  It complicates things for him. He also has a lot of trouble with his own crew, with the threat of mutiny always on the horizon.
  • Elaina Black – a rather ruthless pirate, she doesn’t have any qualms killing people for loot and makes a lot of rash decisions, and typically ends of paying in the end.  Being the daughter of Captain Black does things to you, and she didn’t fall that far from the tree. She’s a really fascinating character and she endures some intense bullshit thanks to her father.
  • Tanner Black – the antagonist of the story, nobody is safe around this guy, he’s brutal and believes that you can only learn through pain. He’s sadistic, creepy, power hungry, and fucking awful. I hated anytime he was on page because something fucked up usually happened and some of it was difficult to read through.
  • Beck – An Arbiter sent to protect Drake by his Seer of a brother. She has some magical abilities, the one most used is to get people to confess to things and share info they wouldn’t usually doing a little mind magic.

All of the characters were rather grey, but they were also easy to relate to in a weird sense, they felt like people, spoke like people and had a lot of depth to them. I loved the way that although I never would like them in real life, I really loved them as characters.

Final Score: 9/10


There was a lot of world building in this book and getting it from a nautical point of view was something I don’t get to see often.

I think my favorite setting was the mysterious Island of Many Deaths where there’s all sorts of weird fucking ways to die. Sometimes the island tries to lull you to sleep and have animals eat you, other times it’s monsters, there’s so much going on here it was a lot of fun to explore with the characters. Not to mention watching a town get built is interesting by itself, I’ve always liked pioneering stories where it’s settlers vs the land, “The Merry Fuck” is probably my favorite brothel name I’ve encountered in a while.

The numerous pirate cities are well realized and I got a real sense for how they looked and felt and the people that inhabited them.

There’s a lot of interesting lore going on with different gods and myths and legends. So much old school mysterious stuff that’s so much fun. Giant creatures, unruly Sea Gods as likely to smite their followers as help them. There’s also a faction of fanatics from the Vol religion who have Arbiters, a type of magically endowed person who hunts down witches and people they believe to be against their god, burning at stakes is a thing.

There’s a fleet of ships tied together to form a floating city with the worlds largest pleasure house called Fortunes Rest.

There’s another race that’s mostly found underground called the Drurr, and they specialize in bizarre torture, they’re pissed off at humans for driving them underground, they used to rule the world. There’s a mystery going on between Drake and these creatures and it was fun trying to put it together.

There’s too much world building for me to squeeze it into a condensed enough version for this kind of a review.

Final Score: 9.5/10


This was one of the cleaner written books I’ve read through spfbo, most books have a handful of spelling, grammar, or other editing errors. This book was so clean it read like it was polished by an editor.

The pacing was super quick, there was always something interesting happening, whether it was exploring an island of monsters and magic, or fights, or escapes, or personal shit hitting the fan – whatever it was that was on page was interesting and it was difficult to put down.

Pacing Final Score: 8.5/10

Writing Final Score: 9.5/10



I haven’t read many pirate books, and usually if they’re included they’re the bad guys and the POV’s are fighting against them. To get a war against pirates from the pirate POV was great. There was a lot of original world building and the characters were different from what I’ve experienced before.

Final Score: 8.5/10


  • For people who like gritty books
  • For people who like grey characters
  • For people who like more complex plot
  • For people who like monsters and “old magic”/mysterious magic
  • For people who like multi POV
  • For people who like a book that kicks you in the feels and goes to rather dark places
  • For people who like addiction topics addressed in fantasy, side character addicted to Lucy
  • Not for people who don’t like cursing
  • Not for people who want to avoid rape and sexual violence. There was a fairly detailed on screen rape of a main POV. 


Total Final Score: 53.5/60 or 8.91/10 or 5 stars on goodreads.


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