Details of the Hunt, by Laura Baumbach

>> Thursday, April 12, 2007

I liked the one Laura Baumbach book I liked well enough, so I picked up Details of the Hunt (excerpt) when someone told me it was good. It looked a bit different, but maybe an interesting kind of different.

A 26th century, time-traveling, bounty hunter snatchs a 18th century Earth pirate in a deal to enrich the archeoalogical knowledge of mankind, but as he develops an attraction for the likable, free-spirited prey, he attempts to alter the deal, threatening both his own personal code of honor and the strict rules of conduct of his race. Will the love of a wily, cock-sure, young pirate be enough for the stoic hunter to risk exile from his own people?.

To be honest, I got even more "different" than I was bargaining for. A Bit of Rough had been a plain and simple romance: two normal, regular guys meeting and falling in love in a contemporary setting. The only thing "exotic" were touches of dominance and submission games in bed, but nothing extreme. This was nothing like it. You'll see in the next few paragraphs.

Just to be completely clear: I'm not holding my mistaken expectations against it at all, because I was quickly able to get over my shock and get into some of the more unexpected elements. Not all worked for me, but I was fine with most. Most of the problems I had with the book came from other areas. Again, you'll see. My grade: a B-.

It's 1769 and young pirate ship captain Aidan Maymon is tossed overboard by his men during a mutiny. Tied to a barrel and about to be eaten by sharks, the last thing he sees before losing consciousness is what he thinks is a Cemi sea monster approaching.

700 years later, the Oracan High Council receives a request to make the pirate, Aidan Maymon, the bounty in a hunt. The Oracan are the peace-keepers of the galaxy, possessing the secret to time-traveling, and one of the traditions is to perform these hunts, but only for bounty approved by the Council, which has very high standards. They only approve hunts they find worthy, and in Maymon's case, they approve the hunt because he's supposed to know the location of a treasure which will supposedly enrich archeology and the understanding of Earth culture and so on. Very high-minded, these Oracans. For all their fearsomeness, they're actually pretty sensitive, cultured guys.

Anyway, the Oracan hunter chosen for this mission is Talos, and he accomplishes the first part of it, acquiring the prey, with perfect efficiency. He time-travels back to the 18th century and chooses the moment which would have been just before Maymon died, so that the past is not affected by his actions. Can you guess the Cemi monster Maymon thought was approaching him was Talos, about to snatch him from the sharks' jaws?

His bounty acquired and safely stashed, drugged and bound in his ship, all Talos needs to do is hand him over to Barlow, the human who's requested the hunt. But that's when things derail. Mercenary ships are waiting for Talos when he makes the jump back to the future, and though he escapes the ambush, he needs to make a stopover at a space station for repairs. And then the bounty wakes up and escapes while Talos is out to lunch, and after actually meeting the guy awake, it's hard for Talos to keep seeing the bounty as simply bounty and not a very attractive man who somehow calls to him.

Will Talos go rogue and take Maymon for himself, rather than handing him over to the Oracan council? Is Barlow behind the increasing attempts on Talos and his ship, trying to seize the bounty before the council has allocated it to him?

Let's get this out of the way. You might have guessed it when I mentioned that Maymon first thinks Talos is a Cemi sea monster (and from the cover, duh), but Talos isn't exactly human. I might be glossing over some of the details of his physical description, but the big picture is that the guy is a reptile/humanoid combo, with some key differences from humans, like very sensitive carthilage nubs all over his chest, and a loooong, flexible, prehensile penis, surrounded by sponge-like, tubular appendages, also prehensile. Yeah, I know this isn't that unheard of in erotica e-books, but what can I say? I'm not particularly adventurous in this area, and I think it's the first time I've read something like this.

Strangely, I understood this guy much better and identified more with him than with the child-like waif of a pirate that was Maymon. Talos is a serious, intense guy, conflicted between his concept of honour, which demands that he turn in Maymon to the Oracan Council as bounty, and his growing attachment to the guy, who makes him want forever. I even liked his way of speaking. See, Talos learned his English from gangster movies, so his speech is peppered with old-fashioned expressions, and it was fun, imagining this strange-looking guy talking like that (the only WTF moment was when he said "surrender to me, my desire" in the heat of passion, but fortunately, that was it for purple prose. I wonder if he read a Rosemary Rogers as part of his research into 20th century Earth?).

Maymon, the real human, I didn't get nearly as much. Sometimes it seemed he had the maturity of a 10-year-old, not to mention the common sense. Not all the time, fortunately, and he did grow on me after a while, but I remain unconvinced.

What I did like about what Baumbach did with Maymon was the lack of rose-coloured lenses in her vision of what the life of the 18th century pirate would have been. When Maymon gets a check-up at the medical centre, they don't just have to get rid of the dirt and matted hair and lice and crabs and clean the stained teeth (and just that would have been revolutionary). They also have to fix some physical problems caused by the way he was living, like fixing his liver because of all the alcohol he'd drunk, remove a tumor from his intestines, and they even discover that the reason he's small and slight is because bad nutrition as he was growing up (he started on a pirate ship at 8), meant his growth was stunted. Much better than Disney pirates, IMO.

As for the romance and sex, I'm kind of of two minds about it. There were things I loved, like seeing Maymon's initial reluctance to make love rather than simply have sex. As he earnestly explains, sex between men doesn't involve those things Talos wants to do, like hugging and petting and kissing. Sex between men is hurried and hidden and almost violent, not about affection but about taking care of needs when there aren't women around. In that sense, even though m/m sex is nothing new to Maymon, the way Talos does it is completely new, and I loved seeing him discover what it could be like.

But really, I could have done without Talos' crazy genitalia. At times it felt like I was reading tentacle porn, and it make me a little bit queasy. I didn't really feel it added anything beyond titillation to the story.

Also, like in that other Baumbach I read, we get one partner who's big and hulky and dominant, and the other who's small and cute and, in this case, even feisty. I definitely prefer it when we don't get the two male protagonists forced into the hero/heroine stereotypical gender roles. That's one of the reasons I like m/m, because I can usually avoid those silly gender roles that piss me off so much.

Even so, I was leaning towards a straight B until the end of the story, when the plot pretty much goes to hell. I was left asking myself "whaaa?" about some things, like what the hell that scepter was. Maybe it's just me: time-travel stories give me headaches. If it had been only the initial time-travel, simply bringing Maymon to the future, ok, but there's some back and forth later that I don't even want to think too hard about.

So, some definite nuggets of goodness there, which make this one worth a try.


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