Heather Massey’s Steampunk Cafe’

The Important Contribution of Finnegan H.H. O’Riordan’s Sky Pirate: Safe Harbor

Thanks to a reader who’s aware of my interest in steampunk romances with diverse characters, I discovered Sky Pirate: Safe Harbor by Finnegan H.H. O’Riordan (Finnegan H.H. O’Riordan is the pen name of Spring Horton). After reading it, I decided to tag it as well as highlight the important diversity goals it accomplishes.

First, here’s the blurb:

Sky Pirate:  Safe Harbor by Finnegan H.H. Riordan“Finnegan O’Riordan isn’t your usual pirate airship captain. In a world of burly, salty sea dogs, he’s a small, nicely dressed gentleman. And it’s no secret amongst the other pirates that he wasn’t always a man. In a time when being transgender was unheard of, Finnegan felt no choice but to be true to himself. Equipped with a Rejuvenating Elixir that keeps his body masculine and his pirating skills, he purchases his own ship, the Safe Harbor, and is determined to make her just that. With a crew of made up of another transman, an automaton surgeon, a cross dressing cook and other misfits, the Safe Harbor takes to the skies. Follow in Finnegan’s adventures as he proves himself to the rest of the pirate world and takes his revenge on the crew who tried to kill the man he loves.”

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The plot actually spends most of its time on three things: Captain O’Riordan hiring his crew, the renovation of his airship, and the mysterious appearance of a man who’d been beaten and nearly drowned. There’s an action-adventure scene at the end, but most of the story involves O’Riordan hiring crew members. He also longs for a First Mate with whom he can partner in both work and life. The romance is subtle and ends in a “Happily For Now.” Heat level is 100% “sweet.”

Sky Pirate: Safe Harbor is very LGBQT-friendly. That part of the story is awesome.

O’Riordan is dedicated to being an inclusive captain. No matter one’s sexual orientation, biology (the ship’s surgeon is an automaton!), or interests, all are welcome aboard his ship. He takes pride in his ragtag, underdog crew. The author conveys the message of acceptance strongly and regularly.

One example concerns the relationship between O’Riordan and his cabin boy, Jack. Jack is a fourteen-year old transgender boy who has confided in O’Riordan about his gender identity. At times Jack’s role serves a distinct narrative purpose. For example, in one scene, O’Riordan removes his shirt while helping to repair the ship. During the process of revealing his transformed body, he’s aware of the curious eyes of the crew, including Jack. Note how the language positions O’Riordan as both mentor and hero:

I knew they meant no harm, especially Jack who was only in awe at the transition his new found hero had gone through.

The subtext wasn’t very subtle, especially given we’re in O’Riordan’s point-of-view, but I completely agree that O’Riordan is as heroic as they come (and nice—you wouldn’t believe how nice he is!).

Captain O’Riordan accepts the LGBQT characters as normal even though they still face prejudice in the world at large. They also comprise a significant number of main characters. Other creative choices were also delightful. To me, the choice of an automaton as the ship’s surgeon is pure genius. When O’Riordan first meets Fletcher, the text acknowledges prejudice as symbolized by the automaton’s non-human status:

Before I could answer, Jack cut in with, “He’s a surgeon. He’s very skilled, but…well, people don’t want to sail with him either.”

“No one wants to trust their lives to someone who’s not real,” Fletcher added and I could hear the hint of bitterness in his voice.

In that instance, I decided that this man, whether metal or flesh, would be my ship’s surgeon.

The lack of high stakes conflict and low-key plot make this novella more wish-fulfillment/social commentary than story. Given the earnest tone and cast of enthusiastic characters, Sky Pirate: Safe Harbor conveys a strong sense of hope and is clearly designed to put the reader in a good mood!

Despite the many positive messages, the story is rough around the edges. The prose is readable, but could have used an editor for more polish. The text includes some word misusage (e.g., split compound words). The setting is steampunk, but I detected no explanation regarding why the characters inhabit an alternate Earth.

Plus, one character’s motivation goes completely unaccounted for. She helps O’Riordan because…she’s a helpful person? O’Riordan doesn’t have to expend much effort finding crew. That example is partly why the story feels more like a wish-fulfillment fantasy than a fully-fledged story to me.

Despite the flaws (some objective, some undoubtedly subjective), I was excited to read a steampunk romance that features diverse elements—especially transgender characters. I’m so grateful for digital-first and indie publishing because the chances of being able to read a story like Sky Pirate: Safe Harbor are much, much higher than with mainstream publishers.

Given its length and scope, Sky Pirate: Safe Harbor is like an appetizer. It includes many elements I’d like to read more of in steampunk romance, but didn’t completely sate my appetite. I would happily read novel-length books of this type. Luckily, the author has begun work on Sky Pirate 2: The Misfit Fleet (via serialized chapters on Wattpad). I hope Spring Horton’s efforts inspire other authors to take a similar risk as it would help meet the need of countless underserved readers.

About the author

Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author in the genre. To learn more about her published work, visit heathermassey.com.

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