REVIEW: Running Close to the Wind by Alexandra Rowland

Alexandra Rowland delivers chaotic queer pirates with insanely high sex-drives, mystifying turtle astronomy, dangerous sea serpents in breeding season, loveable glowing dogs, and an absurd cake competition in Running Close to the Wind, an unapologetically unhinged seafaring fantasy with a fun-factor that is simply off the charts!

Running Close to the WindA horny as hell former Arasti spy with inexplicable good luck, a grumpy non-binary captain fed up with everyone’s bullshit, and an ungodly hot monk with an unfortunate vow of celibacy are stuck together at sea while they try to escape the law and change the tide for the crew; no, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke, but the insanely ridiculous set-up for Running Close to the Wind.

Though set in the same queer-normative world as Rowland’s slow-burn political fantasy A Taste of Gold and Iron, this feel-good and chaotic fantasy romcom is a completely different beast and stands totally on its own. It’s raunchy yet low-spice, hysterical yet poignant, and overall just batshit crazy on every single level, but I was personally eating up the hijinx and mayhem. I mean, Rowland clearly had a strong vision, and they damn well ran with it!

Never before have I read a book with such an exceptionally infuriating, insufferable, and pathetic protagonist, whom I constantly wanted to strangle, but also inexplicably loved to pieces (for which I then wanted to strangle myself). See, our little gremlin Avra is a self-proclaimed flibbertigibbet and whiny little slut with zero impulse-control and a personality more annoying than that of a mewling, clingy wet cat, yet somehow he just burrowed his way into my heart. Don’t get me wrong, I probably would’ve yeeted him straight over the railing of the ship within seconds of meeting him myself, yet I am admittedly also exceptionally glad that the characters in Running Close to the Wind had (slightly) more patience with him than I would have had.

And speaking of other characters, it is truly beyond me how Rowland managed to write such a loud and energy-sucking protagonist without having the rest of the crew pale in comparison. The broody, witty, and suave Captain Teveri (a.k.a. the on-again, off-again ex lover whom Avra simply worships) is a really refreshing counterbalance to Avra’s chaos, and I absolutely loved their tragically entertaining captain logs at the end of most chapters. Much to their deep dismay, they just can’t seem to stop themself from being drawn in by Avra’s irresistible charm, and the amount of exasperation-fueled banter between the two amused me to no end.

But that level of queer messiness clearly wasn’t enough, so enter Brother Julian (my personal favourite). Truly, I can’t blame Avra and Teveri for low-key starting a bet on who could get him to break his vow of celibacy first, as I would have joined that competition without a second thought. However, Julian quickly proves that he is not just sinfully sexy, and his actions actually end up bringing some of the most powerful themes and social commentary into the narrative.

Because yes, while this is absolutely a fun and almost cosy fantasy romcom at its heart, there is a deep undercurrent of righteous anger woven into Running Close to the Wind that Sir Terry Pratchett himself would have been proud of. Themes of capitalism, religion, and the injustice of all-powerful institutions are delivered in a cleverly funny way, and one particularly impassioned speech by Julian had me pumping my fists in the air and screaming “FUCK YES” out loud; sometimes messages deserve to be heard loud and clear, no subtlety needed.

Now, I do have to admit that the pacing felt a bit rocky at times, but if there was ever a book which I can forgive for a slightly messy and unfocused plot, then it’s Running Close to the Wind. Between Avra’s ridiculous antics, all the crazy pirate adventures, the queer messiness, and the deliciously intense interpersonal drama, there simply wasn’t a single dull moment in this story, and I am not ashamed to admit that I devoured nearly 300 pages of it in one day.

It’s hard to give this book a glowing universal recommendation considering how subjective humour is, but if you liked the vibes of Gideon the Ninth or like the idea of an even more unhinged version of Pratchett-esque absurdity, then this should be smooth sailing for you! I personally think Rowland nailed the execution of their vision for this story, and I would honestly praise this book into the heavens. If you think you are ready to meet Avra and crew to go on one of the most hysterical and delightfully queer fantasy adventures you will ever have the pleasure of experiencing, then I can’t recommend Running Close to the Wind highly enough.

Thank you to Tordotcom for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Running Close to the Wind is scheduled for release on June 11th, 2024. 

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Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.

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