Peter Thorton and his lover set out on a quest to rescue a captive duke who is the pretender to the throne of Portugal. Thorton is arrested and placed on trial for desertion and sodomy. Men of Honor continues the further adventures of a gay officer during the Age of Sail, replete with perils, excitement, and nautical detail.
Review by Alex Beecroft
The plot of this one is somewhat labyrinthine, so I despair of being able to do a summary which will make sense in a short space. However, a brief recap of part of it goes thusly:
Peter Thorton, now a Captain of the Sallee Rovers, with a lover called Shakil and a commanding officer, Isam, who is his ex, is sent to rescue Duke Henrique of Portugal from Sebta, where he is being held prisoner by the Spanish. Henrique has some claim to the throne of Portugal, and if he acts on this, it will put a spanner in the works of the Spanish crown.
So, Shakil enters Sebta in disguise, finds the Duke and they escape to Peter’s ship. Peter then has to convey Henrique to Gibraltar despite the efforts of the Spanish to stop him.
After various incidents he almost reaches Gibraltar, only to be intercepted by his old ship, HMS Ajax and put under arrest for sodomy and desertion. However, in an attempt to avoid war between Britain and the Sallee states, he is allowed to remain serving as a lieutenant on the Ajax until he can be brought to court martial. While he’s aboard the Ajax, he finds that he has made an enemy of his old friend Perry; they are wrecked on an island and have to defend themselves against a Spanish warship and …. you’ll have to see the rest for yourself but just from that part you can see that a hell of a lot happens in this book, and while in one respect that’s good – there are no periods where the action lags – in another respect it’s a bad thing. Structurally, this is a much more even book than PoNS1, which had a very slow first 8 chapters but then picked up and became fascinating later on. In this book the pace is pretty even throughout.
Having complained about the slow start of #1, it seems a bit churlish of me to complain about the speed of #2, but that’s what I’m going to do. The pace of this book is relentless, with incident piled upon incident and then stirred up with some more action. As a result, there doesn’t seem time for the characterization and atmosphere of book #1. We didn’t stay in any place long enough for me to be able to get a feel of it, and even the battles had an air of being rushed past in order to get onto the next bit.
Some of the situations this time around struck me as very unlikely – Captain Horner allowing Thorton to serve as a lieutenant despite the charge of desertion on his head. Thorton being made acting captain in the British Navy, despite being a Muslim. My understanding is that all officers in the RN had to be members in good standing of the Church of England. And in fact M.Kei knows this because – earlier on – Peter’s refusal to recant his belief in Islam is a stumbling block during his court martial.
In addition I found I was disappointed that the second book did not go further into the culture and seafaring lore of the Sallee Rovers, but instead returned to the well trodden paths of the European perspective on the Age of Sail. PoNS #1 had a real freshness to it simply because of its focus on the ships and culture of the Barbary pirates. #2 barely touches on it before it’s back to business as usual as far as AoS books go.
Having said this, I don’t want to give the impression that this is a bad book. That would be very far from the truth. As I’ve said, there was something different happening on every page, and while the cast list was so huge that I couldn’t always remember who was who, there was always something exciting going on. M. Kei’s writing has smoothed out from the beginning of #1 and there are no more of the info-dumps that clogged up the beginning of that book. The ample amounts of action keep the book moving fast and breathlessly onwards, and there are some real standout scenes of naval warfare. My favourite by far is the scene where the ships are being fought inside a cave. Wow! That was a corker.
I also enjoyed Shakil’s mission ashore in disguise. There was a tension in this part that some of the later ones lacked, partly because we know by now that Thorton can get out of almost anything at sea, but Shakil has been established as a gentle, unworldly book-keeper. So it’s easier to think of him being out of his depth and to worry for him.
One of the things which were sacrificed for the sake of action in this book was any kind of romance. Yes, there’s an uncomfortable entanglement with Perry, and yes, Thorton reveals that he’s unable to say no to anything in trousers, but these things very much take a back seat to the other action. So, unlike #1, there isn’t really a relationship to root for in this book. Perhaps that’s why, although I think that from an objective stand point it’s a better book than #1, it failed to grip and involve me as much. I come away impressed by the scope and sweep of it, but rather unmoved, emotionally, by the story.
I give it a 4.5 because it’s unquestionably better than the majority of m/m Age of Sail books I’ve been reading recently. M. Kei has a fine grip on his period and his sailing details, and has produced a book which can stand comparison with C.S Forester’s Hornblower series. In fact I was reminded of the Hornblower novels because that’s another series that I can’t really find fault with, but nevertheless didn’t enjoy very much.
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