Review by Erastes
From the blurb: “Ambitious and handsome, Joshua Andrews had always valued his life too much to take unnecessary risks. Then he laid eyes on the elegant picture of perfection that is Peter Kenyon.
Soon to be promoted to captain, Peter Kenyon is the darling of the Bermuda garrison. With a string of successes behind him and a suitable bride lined up to share his future, Peter seems completely out of reach to Joshua.
But when the two men are thrown together to serve during a long voyage under a sadistic commander with a mutinous crew, they discover unexpected friendship. As the tension on board their vessel heats up, the closeness they feel for one another intensifies and both officers find themselves unable to rein in their passion.
Let yourself be transported back to a time when love between two men in the British Navy was punishable by death, and to a story about love, about honor, but most of all, about a Captain’s Surrender.”
Now this is what I’m talking about. If you want a taste of what floats my boat when it comes to gay historical fiction, (no pun intended), then this is it.
I’m not mad on the cover, but that won’t be a surprise to any regular reader of this blog. It doesn’t sum up any part of the book (so readers – don’t expect nakedness on a beach somewhere), doesn’t look like the characters and doesn’t explain it’s a historical. I would find a detail of a naval captain (oo all those lovely brass buttons) to be much more sexy and more in keeping with the era – so if I hadn’t read the blurb I wouldn’t buy this.
But don’t let that stop you, for God’s sake.
There are so many reasons why I liked this book. The writing is formal enough to give more than a flavour of the era, but not so formal that you are tied up in huge run on sentences. If, like me, you are not an expert in the Age of Sail, it matters not. With Beecroft you feel that you are in a “safe pair of hands” right from the word go. In every scene there is enough detail to paint the pictures needed, and she paints them richly, but not so fussily that you roll your eyes and shout “enough about ropes and knots already, just cast off!” The blurb says “let yourself be transported to a time…” and that’s just what Beecroft does.
But be warned, this is accurate. Shipboard life was no picnic. Although in the main, English sailors were well looked after on good ships, even in good ships the discipline was unforgiving. The Captain of Peter and Josh’s ship is a tyrant of the first water and the punishments he metes out are over the top but historically correct and are described in some detail. At times it’s hard to read but I found it fascinating and illuminating to see such barbarism in a so-called age of enlightenment.
But what I liked most is that this is a story; granted yes, there is a romance at the heart of it, a coming of age romance if you like – implicit by the title; but the romance is not the mainstay of it all – there’s a lot going on and the threads work well together. There’s enough yearning and forbidden love to keep a m/m lover happy, but please note – this isn’t an erotic romance and if you are looking for more sex than plot you won’t find it here. The sex is present, not it’s not often, not graphic but it’s beautifully written. The second kiss for example is one of the best kisses I think I have ever read in an m/m book so far.
The author does some clever things with characterisation – she uses the minor characters to observe what’s going on and I really appreciated this. There’s one scene when a character is watching the goings on on deck and it’s truly nerve-wracking – I was right there with the watcher and was (almost) as worried as he was. I had (as had the character) been given the choices of what might happen but there was no way to know which way it could go. It’s a scene that wouldn’t have worked so well from either of the main protagonists point of view because they would have been thinking completely different things from the layman watching on. It’s hard to believe that, with this level of skill, that this is Beecroft’s first book.
Peter and Joshua are such excellently drawn young men, as different as can be – Joshua has experience and knows what he is, and although comfortable with that, he’s petrified of the very real danger that puts him in. The Navy at this time were generally less forgiving than the land-based justice system, and men could be hanged on the say-so of sodomy, rather than requiring any evidence.
Peter, however, has only had experience of women and his reasons for succumbing so readily to Joshua’s advances begin with friendship and then work rationally and logically to a passionate conclusion. Peter reminded me a little of Carrot in Discworld; “Personal is not the same as important” says Carrot and it could well be Peter’s motto. Without spoiling you for the plot, all I can say is that there’s a section just toward the end where the Peter is working all this out in his head and the decisions that he nearly makes made me hate him. I hated him merely for being able to consider the things he was considering, but it’s a necessary right of passage for him as he moves towards the reason for the book’s title.
If I have one quibble it’s that the middle section seemed rushed, and I had the distinct feeling that perhaps the book had been edited for length, and if so, that’s a shame. Again, without spoiling you for a very vital plot point, all I can say if that there is a lot dealt with in one chapter that, for my money, should have been given more time to mature and develop from all sides. I felt a little cheated after the wonderfully rich build up for the first half of the journey.
But, altogether a very good book, a definite keeper and one I shall read and re-read. It’s absorbing, well written and exciting. The only thing that stops it hitting five stars is the slightly rushed middle section. Any lover of historical fiction should love it, whether an afficianado of homosexual romance or not, and I look forward to Alex Beecroft’s next book with anticipation.