Review: Pirates of the Narrow Seas II: Men of Honor by M Kei

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.

Buy at Lulu

Bristlecone Pine Press Call for Submissions: Vintage

Call for Submissions: Vintage

Pictures and photographs capture our faces and preserve our memories. Generations later, they spark our imaginations, making us wonder: Who is in the picture? What are they doing? How are they feeling?

Vintage is a call for written works inspired by pictures or photographs. We are looking for authors who will tell us the story behind those two men on the beach…or standing next to bench…or staring out a window…or looking oddly shy in each other’s presence. We want high quality, original fiction that will draw the reader into world of the photo or picture, to share and reminisce.

Guidelines

Length: Short novels, 10K to 50K words

Theme: Historical love stories that feature a relationship between male same-sex couples, inspired by a picture or photograph. While the actual taking of the photograph (or painting of the picture) does not need to be included in the narrative, the picture/photo does need to be included in the storyline. If you want examples of what we are thinking of, you might want to read Our One and Only by E.N. Holland or Lover’s Knot by Donald Hardy (see in particular, pp. 259-260 and p. 324).

For the purposes of this collection, “historical” is defined as any time in history in which a photograph or painted picture could be produced, with a cut-off date of 1985. Love stories, to us, are those stories that tell of a relationship in a realistic and meaningful way. We do not have a requirement for a “happy ever after” or a “happy for now” ending although that certainly would be acceptable. We recognize the challenges that same-sex couples have faced in the past (and continue to face, but that’s another story) and that can be portrayed, although we also would like these relationships shown in a loving and positive way, to the extent that is possible, given time and circumstance.

Characters can be any age from 15 on up. For stories that feature characters under the age of 18, the relationship must be consensual and presented in a positive light. Teenagers exploring a first, forbidden love would be fine; an older man raping a younger boy would not. It should go without saying but we’ll say it anyway: no incest or bestiality. No vampires or werewolves, no paranormals, although if a story featured a ghost in the old fashioned, classic definition of a ghost story, that would be considered. Again, Lover’s Knot is a good example of the latter.

As these are love stories, scenes of characters making love can certainly be included but we do not have a requirement for a set number of sex scenes or level of explicitness. Let your own judgment be your guide: if it is important to the story, include it; if not, leave it out. In general, we are looking for books written for an adult audience that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Submissions

Query: Send an email to publisher@bcpinepress.com . Include Query: Vintage and the proposed title of your book in the subject line. In the body of the email, include a one paragraph (150-200 word) synopsis of the story. Attach to the email: 1) the photo/picture that inspired you; and 2) the first 5000 words of your story, in a Word doc or PDF. Manuscripts do not need to be complete to be submitted. If an incomplete manuscript is accepted, the completed manuscript will be due two (2) months after the final contract is negotiated and signed. Publication will be two (2) months after a final, completed, edited manuscript is signed off by the author and accepted by the publisher.

Please include your contact information including name, address, email address, and phone number. Queries can be submitted under a pen name, if one is used, although a legal name will be required for a contract, if one is offered.

Queries will be acknowledged upon receipt. A final decision on acceptance/rejection will be made within two (2) weeks. If you do not receive an acknowledgement, please re-send, as messages do get lost in cyberspace.

Photograph/Picture and Cover: All books in the Vintage series will use the template cover, as illustrated here, substituting the author’s name, book title, and photograph/picture. Photographs/pictures must be in the public domain or you must have documented permission for its use.

Production, Sales, and Payment

Production: All books will be edited by BCPP staff. Books will be assigned an ISBN and listed in Books in Print. Covers, as noted above, will use the Vintage template.

Format: eBook only. BCPP produces books in a variety of formats that can be read on multiple devices, including laptops/PCs, smartphones/PDAs, iPhones/iPads, the Nook, the Sony e-reader, and the Amazon Kindle. Books are sold in several outlets including Amazon, All Romance ebooks, and OmniLit. We do not sell in the Sony store, although books are sold in a format that is readable on the Sony e-reader. Plans are in the works to sell in the AppleStore.

Pricing: Books will priced and sold according to length: up to 15K words, $2.99; 15K to 30K words, $3.99; 30K words and above, $5.99.

Royalties and Advances: BCPP is a traditional royalty paying publisher. At the time the book is deployed for sale at the outlets through which we sell, an advance (against royalties) will be paid, based on length: up to 15K words, $25; 15K to 30K words, $50; 30K words and above, $100. After that, royalties are paid quarterly at a rate of 40% of the net proceeds to the publisher.

Marketing: Marketing is a joint effort between the author and the publisher. All Vintage books will be featured on the Bristlecone Pine Press website (www.bcpinepress.com) and included in our catalog. We will submit review copies to popular review sites, including Speak Its Name and Reviews by Jessewave. We hope that the Vintage books become a recognizable and popular series that readers will look forward to and purchase impulsively.

Deadline

This is an ongoing call for submissions. At present there is no deadline. Submissions are welcome at any time. Please feel free to direct questions about this call to the publisher, Leslie H. Nicoll, at publisher@bcpinepress.com.

The Bristlecone Pine Press editorial team looks forward to hearing from you!

Last Gasp by Erastes, Chris Smith, Charlie Cochrane and Jordan Taylor

Last Gasp, a series of four short novellas wherein we discover: four gay couples who struggle to find happiness during historical periods on the brink of change. Take a trip back to 1840s Hong Kong, Edwardian Syria, 1898 Yukon and 1936 Italy, and experience passion that will endure through the ages.

The Stories:

Tributary by Erastes

It’s 1936 and a generation of disaffected youth waits in the space between a war that destroyed many of their friends and family, and a war they know is bound to come. Guy Mason wanders through Italy, bored and restless for reasons he can’t even name, and stops at the Hotel Vista, high in the mountains of Lombardy. There, he meets scientist James Calloway and his secretary, Louis Chambers, and it’s there that the meandering stream of Guy’s life changes course forever.

The White Empire by Chris Smith

Edgar Vaughan sincerely believes that six-thousand miles is enough to give him a fresh start. Escaping in 1838 from the drawing rooms of Belgravia and the constraints of his landed family, he takes up missionary work in the trading post of Hong Kong. On arrival, he finds the region on the cusp of war; the Chinese Emperor has outlawed the importation of opium — the key link in the trade of the East India Company. Between Edgar’s sense of isolation, the sight of the puling opium addicts, and one memorable encounter with a man in a peacock waistcoat, Edgar finds himself embroiled in the very marrow of the British Empire’s machinations. He finds himself torn between espousing the expeditious whilst protecting his new acquaintance, and doing what is right and risking the wrath of the British Empire.

Sand by Charlie Cochrane

People come to Syria for many reasons; tourism, archaeology, or because they need to leave Edwardian England to escape potential disgrace. Andrew Parks is one of those, burying past heartache and scandal among the tombs.

Charles Cusiter has travelled here as well, as chaperone to a friend whose fondness for the opposite sex gets him into too much trouble at home. Out in the desert there aren’t any women to turn Bernard’s head – just the ubiquitous sand.

The desert works its magic on Charles, softening his heart and drawing him towards Andrew. Not even a potentially fatal scorpion sting can overcome the power this strange land exerts.

The Ninth Language by Jordan Taylor

Thousands of outsiders descend on Canada’s Yukon Territory during the 1898 gold rush, wreaking havoc on the landscape and the indigenous people who live there. Amid the backdrop of this once pristine land, a man struggling against the destruction of his home and culture finds himself indebted to one of the men causing it. These two strangers discover solace and wholeness where they least expect it: each other

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

As others have noted, anthologies can be a hit or miss or affair but fortunately that is not the case with Last Gasp, which consists of four excellent short novels that will keep any historical fiction fan happy for several hours of entertaining reading.

Three of the authors are familiar to me (Erastes, Charlie Cochrane, and Jordan Taylor); The White Empire by Chris Smith is her debut publication and it is an impressive first start. Although I enjoyed all four stories in Last Gasp, this one may edge out the others (by a hair) as my favorite. It was the longest and the most complex in terms of plot, with a little mystery, some suspense, more than a bit of moral ambiguity and, of course, a romance. I think, too, I am partial to the 1840s as a time period for a story so that added to my enjoyment. I look forward to Smith’s next published offering.

Jordan Taylor’s story was the only one that did not feature British characters and coming at the end of the book (I read the stories in order), it was a nice change. Her writing brought the Yukon Territories to  life and the push/pull conflict between the two main characters, Mitsrii and Troy, was palpable. Taylor is a new, young, and very talented author and I was excited to see her story was included in this collection.

Fans of Charlie Cochrane’s “Lessons” series will feel right at home with Sand, although the setting couldn’t be much further from St. Bride’s Senior Common Room! Even so, the writing was classic Cochrane with her signature funny turns of phrase and amusing expressions. Charles and Andrew quickly fall in love—some might feel a little too quickly, to the point of declaring themselves to each other and making what sounds like a lifetime commitment within days of meeting. I do think that Cochrane’s writing works a little bit better in longer-format fiction where she has time to carefully develop the characters and setting. Even so, I enjoyed this story very much and my little quibble is only a minor problem point in an overall excellent story.

Last, but not least (although it is the first story in the book), Erastes once again seduced me with her prose. While some writers excel at dialogue—and Erastes does fine in that respect—I love her beautiful descriptions of her characters, their locales, and their activities. Tributary did not disappoint. There was enough ambiguity to keep the story interesting and the uncertain future for the main characters certainly lived up to the premise of the entire collection—a world on the brink of change.

As historicals, the details were magnificent. Each story quickly pulled me into its world and kept me there. The characterizations, too, were excellent. At the end of each short novel, I wanted to know more, wondering what happened to the characters and where they moved on in their lives together—or maybe apart.

All in all, it is easy to recommend this collection. Fans of the authors will definitely want to add this to their “to buy” list. If you are a reader who says, “I’m not so sure about historicals…” this might be a good place to start, as the stories have enough variety and detail to give a good overview of what the world of historical fiction has to offer. The stories are full and rich and complete and made for a very satisfying reading experience. A definite keeper of four stories that I am sure to re-read. Brava to the authors, for a job well done!

Purchase from the publisher

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,985 other followers

%d bloggers like this: