Review: On a Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

“Give me a reason to let you live…”

Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit’s world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive among the crew, not to mention the alarming—yet enticing—captain, known as Le Griffe. 

Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?

ebook  - 289 pages (approx)

Review by Alex Beecroft

 First Impressions

 I love the cover – all that gold and rigging and lovely ruffly shirts. A proper naval jacket immediately catches my eye, but the piratical scarf and the fact that that’s clearly not a naval ship (with those crows’ nests) already suggests an interesting conflict.

My initial impression that this was going to be a romance between Kit and his delightful fashionable friend Tristan. The two of them had such chemistry that I was quite sad when currently turned-ashore Lieutenant Kit got a job as an elderly gentleman’s valet and set sail for the Leeward Islands. But soon their small merchant vessel is attacked by pirates and Kit is taken captive aboard the Africa, captained by the gentleman pirate La Griffe (Griffin to his friends.)

Kit is gay, but he has all the ingrained prejudices and internalized homophobia appropriate to a naval officer, for whom sodomy is a hanging offence. I liked the fact that he did not experience a sudden inexplicable change of heart on simply seeing Griffin.

I also liked the fact that Griffin is a cut above some romance-novel-pirates, who would think nothing of a bit of dub- or even non-con. I really dislike the whole ‘irresistible alpha male semi-forces himself on other bloke, confident he will like it in the end, and of course he does’ trope. It’s one of the things that generally puts me off pirate novels – all that threat of rape. Fortunately Griffin is too proud to force himself on an unwilling partner, which means that instead we get a relationship of slowly developing respect between the two men.

Kit is put to work doing such things aboard the pirate sloop that he can be trusted to do without sabotaging the ship or damaging his own honour. This gives rise to another of the great joys of the book, which is the fact that even without the m/m romance element this is a wonderful Age of Sail novel. I would almost go so far as to say that it’s an Age of Sail novel with m/m romance elements rather than a m/m romance-novel with AoS elements.

Elin Gregory’s research is impeccable, her scenes of shipboard life are endlessly engaging, full of lively characters, great nautical battles and intrigues and raving sailing. Anyone who has enjoyed Master and Commander, or Hornblower, would enjoy this novel as a thoroughly entertaining bit of historical swashbuckling.

The romance is slow developing, but I think it’s all the more convincing for that. Both men have time to show their finer qualities, which in both their cases are fine indeed. They also have time to work through their issues, making the development of the love between them more easy to believe. By the end, when Griffin is betrayed by one of his own men, it’s just as easy for the reader to be on the edge of their seat with nerves about how he will ever come back as it is for Kit.

Speaking of swashbuckling, there’s something satisfyingly old school about the ending, where by old school I mean ‘reminds me of classic pirate films like Captain Blood’. It’s a delightful twist, completely unexpected at least by me, and yet properly foreshadowed early on, so that when it does happen you go ‘oh, so that’s why…!’

To sum up. I can’t actually think of anything bad to say about this, other than that the pace and emphasis of the story is more that of an Age of Sail novel than that of a romance. To me that makes the book all the better. Lots to read and get your teeth into as well as a proper pace for the psychological journey Kit has to go on. But those who prefer a more wham, bam, thank you man pace may find it a little slow going. My advice would be to relax and enjoy the ride, because what a ride it is.

Author’s Blog

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA | B&N | Kobo | All Romance eBooks

sin-five-star-read

Review: The Red King by Rosemary O’Malley

A man abused and discarded is left to rebuild himself with naught but vengeance in his heart. A youth cruelly torn from all he knew and loved is cast adrift with no hope for the future. What will happen when Fate thrusts them together?

He is known as Ruaidhri and his extraordinary strengths and stamina are said to be born of the Devil. His ferocity is matched solely by his ruthlessness. For seven years, he has sailed his ship the Taibhse with one goal in mind: to avenge the years of torment he suffered at the hands of a depraved Danish lord. He has one final plan to succeed, but he searches yet for the implement.

His family destroyed by violence and his body enslaved to a brutal master, Andrew’s future promises only misery. He is saved from this desolate fate by a pirate captain with fiery hair and an ultimatum; help him achieve his revenge and go free, or be sent to a horrific, painful death. As Andrew struggles with the choice of slave or assassin, he finds that all is not as it seems aboard the corsair’s ship.

Pain is tempered by pleasure and loss consumed by love in the flames stoked by…The Red King..

ebook only – 320 pages (approx)

Review by Erastes

I always enjoy a well-written nautical adventure and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s clear right from the beginning that the author knows her subject and while I’m clueless about knots and lines and sheets I don’t really care about that stuff in the long run, as long as the book appears to know what it’s on about. Perhaps some expert sailor will find mistakes “a Xebec isn’t rigged like that” blah blah but I don’t know and with all else going on in the book I don’t particularly care. It reads like it does and that’s good enough for me!

The trouble with many nautical books-and I’m assuming that this is a hangover from all those hetero romances where the feisty heroine is dragged onboard by a scurvy but dangerously handsome captain and sparks fly–is that they tend to have the same trope which is exactly as described above, but with a feisty, or otherwise young man captured by that ubiquitous captain. This starts out like that but moves into different territory soon enough not to bore.

Here we have Andrew who is not-quite-a-monk and whose ship was waylaid by pirates.  Andrew – as these captives often are – is beautiful and everyone wants either to rape him or to protect him. I know it’s hard (cough) for a man to be without sex for a long time, but surely not every sailor automatically turns to gay rape rather than the alternatives.

Andrew, as the trope demands, starts out as particularly feeble–although that didn’t stop me from liking him. It wasn’t his fault he was raised gently by monks, after all. He mans up quite quickly which I approved of, and his character arc is fun to read, and he’s soon topping from the bottom and we find he’s not as feeble as we thought.

“I was raised by simple men, not simpletons!”

he says at one point and I cheered. There’s a bit of that problem with age and consent though, he’s 18, and of course has to be for American audiences, but at that age he’d be considered completely grown up in the 17th century, and it seems odd that despite raised by monks he never got around to taking holy orders, as that was his aim when in his monastery.

We get the first inkling that Andrew might eventually be swayed by the Captain’s lust quite quickly in the book.

“This was the captain? This man who looked like barbarian but was tending his wounds with the gentle touch of a Holy Sister? Where am I?” Andrew asked again, pulling his hands out of the man’s grasp. His touch, while gentle, was…disturbing.

Yes. the dot dot dots of foreshadowing!

The captain himself, Ruaidhri  or Rory, the Red King himself, is a larger than life character and one we can quite believe in, those of us raised on stories of Henry Morgan and Edward Teach. He’s a protector as well as a pirate and his aim is to kill a man and he is quite willing to use Andrew to do it. He has the fanatical devotion of his crew, and they are a great mixed bunch of miscreants too.

Lovers of yaoi will like this as it has very much a yaoi feel, particularly at the beginning where the naked innocent, who looks a lot younger than he is, is predated upon by “grown up” men. But I think lovers of shipboard romances will like it a lot too as there’s enough salty action to satisfy. There didn’t seem to be a lot of actual managing the ship–this tends to happen in books I’ve found. More chat than hauling on lines, but ships seem to sail themselves for the most part except in battles or storms! There are one or two tiny tiny instances which made me suspect this was converted fanfic, mentions of apples for example and people simply saying “Pirate” at each other, but if it is then it’s very well converted as never once did I see parallels in characterisation as I have in other books I’ve reviewed.

The growing relationship between Andrew and Rory is nicely done. There’s a rather delicious scene where Andrew tells Rory about a monk in the abbey who had confessed to wanting to kiss his bare bottom which is titillating and far more sensuous than many love scenes I’ve ever read. The fact that Andrew can’t see the effect he’s having while telling the story is quite squirmingly nice. All in all, there was rather too many sex scenes for me, but they aren’t really gratuitous, they do all lead forward in a progression, but well, there are a lot–although well written.

Description is pretty great throughout, to be honest. Without pages of the stuff, O’Malley manages to bring out the huge ocean, the huge sky, the hot claustrophobia of Algiers, the scent of a horse, the noises of the market. I could very easily see this transfer to a great graphic novel, as there’s images here in abundance. It’s much much more than a romance, there’s adventure and danger and philosophy and Cromwellian history and all sorts but it’s certainly never dull.

In fact, I thought I was the master of torturing my heroes especially when they look set for a happy ending, but O’Malley beats me hands down, she had me begging the book for a happy ending, which is something I never do. The ending for me, though, was a bit too drawn out and I got rather impatient with it and found myself skipping to get to the conclusion.

Editing is good, a couple of jarring instances -”lightning” was spelled “lightening” throughout for an example, compliment/complement being confused and some phrases that needed a firmer editing such as:

Rory quelled his sudden, urgent desire to kiss those lips and carry Andrew to the nearest couch with difficulty.

For those who need to know such things, there is one hetero sex scene in the book, and Rory as a ten year old had been taken and used by an adult. These scenes are short, rightly disturbing and not at all for titillation and are dealt with in memory segments. There are some unpleasant scenes towards the end too which if your squick factor is quite low you might want to avoid, but I hope it doesn’t put you off trying the book.  I’ve seen this book labelled BDSM on some sites but I certainly would not label it thusly. BDSM for me means a relationship and the abuse featured here is certainly no relationship, it’s abuse and shouldn’t be prettified.

Overall this is very enjoyable book, one that surprised me with each successive scene for the variety and scope. It should appeal to you whether you like your gay historicals to be well written, exciting, adventurous, factual (as far as this landlubber could ascertain, anyway), romantic and/or sensual. Well done, Ms O’Malley!

No Website that I could find.

Amazon UK | Amazon USA |

Review: His Heart’s Obsession by Alex Beecroft

Kingston, Jamaica, 1752

Robert Hughes, a lieutenant–and rogue–in the British Royal Navy, is in love with his gorgeous fellow officer, Hal Morgan. Hal only has eyes for their captain–a man who’ll never share their inclinations. Night after night aboard the Swiftsure, it kills Robert to listen to Hal’s erotic dreams of a man he can’t possibly have. Determined to protect his friend, Robert stages a seduction.

But Hal demands proof of love before he will submit to the rakish Robert.

Mission accepted. After all, how hard could it be to show what’s inside his heart? Yet Robert’s move to claim Hal’s love leads to the threat of exposure, and mortal danger from the French. Will a heart obsessed ever accept defeat?

Review by Sal Davis

Isn’t that a gorgeous cover? Sunlit ship and compass rose and the tenderness of that pressure of nose and chin on the nape of the neck. No cannon fire, no flashing cutlasses and a pretty good indication of the content.

This is the most obviously romantic of the author’s stories. It is about love – unrequited aching passion that drains souls of joy and makes every waking moment a torment.

Hal Morgan adores the captain of the Swiftsure but William Hamilton only views him as a most trusted friend and subordinate and, to add insult to injury, consults Hal about the best way to court a girl! Hal suffers for his love – OMG how he suffers – little knowing that there is another man in the next cabin just desperate to show him a good time.

That man is Robert Hughes, a landlubber promoted over Hal’s head, a practical joker and an unashamed voyeur. When first seen – peering through a hole he has made in the partition wall between the two cabins so he can evesdrop and observe Hal’s wet dreams – Robert comes across as unpleasantly creepy but then Hal’s self indulgent moanings over the oblivious Captain Hamilton are a bit creepy too and last a lot longer.

I’ll be honest – it didn’t take me very long before I wanted to give Hal a damned good smack and tell him to man up. I was rooting for Robert for most of the book especially when he came to the decision that the only way to win Hal was to show him that he could take their shared profession seriously. I also really liked Captain Hamilton, who came over as a decent, god fearing, naval professional.

I enjoyed the story and, as usual, was blown away by the language, clear and precise yet somehow luxuriant. The historical details were nicely presented, not so much as to make me feel educated but enough to place the action firmly within its period. I wish we had been shown a bit more of Robert’s change in attitude to his profession and I was looking forward to a bit more shipboard heroism than I got, BUT the novella is designed to be a romance and I don’t think any romance reader will find anything to criticise as the two young men arrive at their accommodation.

Buy at Carina

Review: Sail Away by Lee Rowan

Corrupt governments, divided loyalties,lovingly exchanged gifts, astral travel and sensual love; not to mention a sailors unwanted little lodgers are all combined in this charming and entertaining collection of short stories by Lee Rowan, plus an extra treat from Charlie Cochrane.

THE CAPTAINS COURTSHIP
Set in 18th century New England amid revolutionary rumblings, The Captains Courtship is a nicely written and well researched traditional romance.

Cynthia Lancaster is a well brought up English girl living with her father, Edward and her grandmother in New Jersey. Her father is eager for her to marry the unprepossessing Mr Humboldt. But when Cynthia meets the handsome and dashing Commander Paul Andrew Smith when he intervenes in an argument between Edward, a loyalist and and two staunch Patriots,she is immediately smitten.

Now, with the help of her grandmother, Cynthia must attempt to persuade her father that the commander would be a better match than Mr Humboldt.

SEE PARIS AND LIVE.
Christopher St.John, the young Baron Guilford is asked by his mother, the Dowager Baroness, to travel to Paris to supervise the safe delivery of her shipment of brandy. But France is embroiled in Revolution and dangerous ground for an English Aristocrat.

Once there however, Kit meets Zoe Colbert, an extremely pretty,if rather forward young woman who immediately invites an astounded Kit to bed. Events take a turn for the worse for Kit, however and his sojourn in Paris turns out to be longer than he anticipated.

CASTAWAY.
Forbidden love aboard His Majesty’s Frigate, Calypso. When Lieutenants David Archer and William Marshall are washed overboard during a fierce storm at sea, the two find themselves stranded on a desert island. Away from the prying eyes of their shipmates David and William are able to express their love for each other without fear of punishment and almost certain death.  And for a while at least they can live out their fantasies in this tropical paradise until help arrives.

ALL SOULS.
When David Archer is confronted by the apparition of the man whom his lover, William Marshall killed in a duel, he instinctively realises that his friend is in mortal danger. Together David and William must fight the strangest battle of their lives. Will the love they have for each other help them to survive the night, and beat this most deadly of enemies?

GIFT EXCHANGE,TOKEN OF AFFECTION,FORTUNES FAVORS,TOUCH.
Four short stories featuring Davy and William celebrating Christmas, Valentines Day, risking a  ‘quickie’ in a skiff and enjoying some shore leave… and much more besides.

Reviewed by Grace Roberts

I really enjoyed this collection of stories.Beautifully written and well researched, the author Lee Rowan has delivered once again with some classic romance and adventure set on the high seas, in the American colonies and in Paris during the ‘Terror’.

Two of the stories (The Captains Courtship & See Paris and Live) are M/F and the rest are M/M, but don’t let that put you off. I did find that a little disconcerting at first but the author writes in both genres so well, I was able to put aside my bias and enjoy them just as much as the M/M stories. And I love the book’s cover. Nice and clean and uncluttered, and no naked torsos.

Set in the pre revolutionary American colonies, The Captain’s Courtship is a very traditional romance with the requisite handsome hero and a heroine who, though no raving beauty, has attributes which far transcend mere physical attraction. A strong will for one thing, and a determination to marry the man she loves and not the man her father wishes her to wed. Here also is the ubiquitous wise old grandmama colluding with her grand-daughter in her ambition.

As I said, a very traditional romance and a very charming read.

The one quibble I had with the next story, See Paris And Live was the main female character.I just couldn’t take her seriously at all, and I didn’t like her. I tried, but it wasn’t to be. She came across as arrogant and manipulative, and I found the scene where she entices a not unwilling Kit into bed five minutes after meeting him slightly unbelievable.

Later in the story, she voices concerns about the loss of her virtue, and how it would affect her father. Hmm, one can’t help but feel she should have thought of that earlier. But perhaps it was a case, for her at least, of not knowing when she may end up riding in a tumbril to the guillotine, so live for the moment. But I didn’t like it and I found it mildly off-putting.

It’s a decent story with a good, solid plot and we even have Kit undergoing Trepan surgery after a skirmish with revolutionaries.

The next four stories Castaway, Gift Exchange, Fortunes Favors and Touch feature Lieutenants David Archer and his shipmate, friend and lover,William Marshall, the stars of Rowan’s Royal Navy Series.

Castaway has the two being swept overboard during a fierce storm and managing to stay afloat by clinging onto a chicken coop. Washed up on a desert island, the two men battle to suppress their feelings for each other with some slightly comical results. While one leaves the sleeping quarters,where they share a hammock, to supposedly relieve himself among the bushes, the other takes the opportunity of his friends absence to relieve himself in a different way. (His father once told him to do it privately or ignore it) Only later do we discover what Davy has really been up to in the shrubbery. They do eventually stop beating about the bush, ho hum, throw caution to the wind, and consummate their love. And with no threat of Article 29 to bother them and no one to witness the act, they have a lovely frolic on the beach. Very sweet, very sexy,a lovely story with a very surprising ending. I certainly didn’t see it coming, and you may need a hanky or two.

Gift Exchange begins with a charming and affectionate letter from Davy to his mother thanking her for her Christmas gift of a marzipan rabbit, underclothing and woollen stockings.

He shares his gifts with William, and in return,William gives Davy a gift he’ll never forget in a beautifully written scene of illicit passion which, because they are on board ship must be conducted in silence.Difficult for Will, not so much for Davy who’s mouth is er, busy elsewhere.

My favourite after Castaway was All Souls. The author has obviously researched the subject of Astral Travel very thoroughly and whether you believe in it or not, it makes this story a gripping read. Its the first time I’ve seen anyone mention the Silver Cord (the mystical cord which attaches the corporeal body to the spirit. A sort of umbilical cord) for many years. Writers rarely mention it in fiction or in reports of so-called actual occurrences of Astral Travel.  But it enables Davy to float from one deck of his ship to another just by the power of thought. Marvellous, this is a sea faring adventure with a difference. I loved it. And it has a very satisfying ending with love triumphing over adversity and avenging spirits.

Token of Affection and Fortunes Favors have our heroes once again exchanging cute little gifts for Valentines Day and taking a newly repaired skiff for a practice run, and in Token, there are plenty of Bottom puns from the two while discussing Shakespeare, and a mention of a ‘New little mid- Beecroft’ who could play Puck, and looks the part but has an unfortunate stutter. Oh dear!

The first sentences in Fortunes Favors raised my eyebrows a little with the ‘Carry On’ type double entendres. Upright Shafts and Wet Leather! But no, tis only our intrepid twosome rigging up a mast when, having risked a ‘quickie’ behind a tiny island in the Calypso’s newly repaired skiff they are caught in a sudden squall. There’s more talk of Yardarms with er rosy tips etc plus the lovely, vivid line, ['Their] love being no less sincere for being hasty; like a hummingbird hovering in flight to sip nectar’.

Touch blew me away with it’s lusciously sensual and highly evocative sex scene. Playful and raunchy without being smutty or crude, it’s erotica at it’s tasteful best,and is written with skill and finesse.

Finally, With All My Worldly Goods I Thee Endow-Including Livestock By Charlie Cochrane.

This extra little vignette is typically Charlie Cochrane. Her wit, humour and sense of fun abound in every sentence as Davy attempts to rid Will of some unwanted little visitors…..head lice. Great fun to read and is a lovely, jolly finale to a book which I enjoyed immensely. Eight cracking tales with plenty of action, adventure, love, lust and humour, Sail Away has something for everyone between it’s covers. Available from Amazon at £4:53 for the Kindle edition, it’s also available in paperback, (a bonus these days) for £8:99, which is a little pricey, but for this collection I reckon it’s well worth it.

Lee Rowan’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK,  Amazon USA

Review: Cross Bones (short story anthology)

Ahoy, me proud beauty, shiver me timbers! I ask ye to sail me jollyboat on the high seas, lubber, but will ye dare to accept? On offer be a pirate’s life full of danger and risk, and not just to yer neck, but to yer very virgin heart! There’s many a bodice to be ripped–or perhaps I should say many a codpiece to be snapped–and should ye be graced enough to cross bones with a corsair, don’t be an addlepate! Heave ho, lad, handsomely, and show him how ye bury yer treasure!

Pirates didn’t only sail the high seas in historical times. Modern-day renegades and futuristic rebels are just as ripe for adventure and plunder. No matter the time, place, or circumstances, bad boys steal affection as often as they salvage treasure, and in these stories of romance, a rogue’s black heart always conceals a center of gold.

Review by Sal Davis

This is one of the jolliest covers I have seen. Well done Catt Ford. Looking at it one knows EXACTLY what’s on offer – piratical passion, and that’s what the reader gets. Here are nine stories with an historical setting, 2 stories set in the present, 2 fantasies and 2 futuristic ‘piiiiirates in spaaaace’ romps, all of which are good fun too.

Captain Merric by Rebecca Cohen – Captain Daniel Horton risks losing more than his life when he falls into the hands of notorious Captain Merric, who is surprisingly familiar.

Touched by the West Wind by Ellen Holiday – The lyrical tale of Thomas’s love for Brendan.

The Golden Galleon by K.R. Foster – called in to work by his partner on his day off, restauranteur Flynn gets a surprise.

My Hand in Yours by Emily Moreton – pirate captain woos peace keeper in a world full of magic.

Ghost of Jupiter by Jana Denardo – space privateer Al is shocked to find his latest raid has netted him a collection of dangerous alien slaves.

Officer and a Gentleman Pirate by E.S. Douglas – the capture of pirate Rheinallt Jones causes a naval lieutenant a crisis of conscience.

Objectivity by K.J. Johnson – American journalist Matthew risks all to get a story about African pirates.

Worth the Price by Cornelia Grey – Lt Edward Moon, abandoned to pirates by his commanding officer, has to choose between loyalty to the Commodore he despises and the pirate he desires.

Peter and the Lost Boys by Juan Kenobi – Peter is drowning his job related sorrows in a cocktail bar when charismatic Kap offers a solution.

Irish Red by MJ O’Shea – Loving a pirate can so easily lead to heartbreak, as Chris, barman of The Dagger, discovers.

Black John by Piper Vaughn – Juan has to choose whether to declare himself or let his love go free when Jacob is returned to him by the sea.

Rough Trade by Cooper West – “Black market trader” Audacity Gunner, unofficial captain of the AI ship Carthage, has his already random lifestyle further disrupted by the embarkation of Dr Sagittarius Deifenbaker.

From a Simmer to a Burn by B. Snow – Sule Okonjo, ex-slave, hates the Dutch. Ship’s carpenter Olaf is Norwegian but that’s close enough to engage Sule’s fury.

On the Wings of Lir by Riley Shane – Hugh Edward, officer on one of Her Britannic Majesty’s airships, is determined to capture Patrick Kelly, airship pirate.

The Winds of Change by Maggie Lee – Theo Cook, pirate, is perpetually unfaithful to his mess mate Sebastiano. Then they ship out with Edward Teach and Theo suddenly has competition.

Good fun is what this selection of pirate stories is all about. But if you’re the sort of reader who demands pin-sharp historical accuracy before you can even begin to think about enjoying a book, you may not like this anthology. Some of the stories are much better than others in that respect but, as short stories, none of them have much time for world building. Some authors set the scene admirably but some have concentrated exclusively on the passion while hand-waving the historical/naval research. As a representation of generic pirate fiction the anthology is good – I enjoyed the rompy bits while greeting the more thoughtful stories with a cheer – but it’s not Patrick O’Brien.

Buy from Dreamspinner. (paperback and ebook)

Review: By Honor Betrayed by Alex Beecroft

1748

Lieutenant Conrad Herriot and Seaman Tom Cotton have been master and servant for over a decade, and friends for almost as long. When Tom is injured during a skirmish, Conrad forgets himself and rushes to Tom’s side, arousing suspicion about the true nature of their relationship.

All Tom wants is the chance to consummate their love and embark on a new life together, outside the law that condemns them. Yet he fears Conrad won’t risk his career and his honor to become Tom’s lover.

Conrad believes his lust for Tom will damn his soul. There’s also their difference in class—a gentleman doesn’t socialize with a common tar. As Conrad struggles to refute the gossip on the ship, he must decide whether to commit the crime the crew’s already convicted them of, or part from Tom for good to save both their necks…

Review by Erastes

Just a small niggle, and this is nothing to do with the review or the mark – but I fail completely to see why Carina insisted on the American spellling of “honor” on the title and the blurb, and then used English spelling–including “honour” in the book itself. Very odd indeed. (plus the year is wrong, the book is set in 1750) Bad Carina, no biscuit.

I had to have some niggles, after all, because there’s not much else to niggle about here. Lovers of Alex’s writing–whether you like it for the mile deep descriptions, conflicted officers, multi-faceted characters–it’s all here.

Conrad is, as most people were, god-fearing and believing in concepts of immortal souls and all that jazz. He’s been humming and hah-ing about letting his manservant (horrors!) Tom know that he finds him quite delightful for many years and it takes a big sea battle for his feelings to surface–much to the chagrin of the captain and the amusement of his crew (leading to a subsequent lack of respect.) The irony is that he’s already been suspected of the crime–suspected and judged by his shipmates–and he hasn’t actually done anything. Stung by the injustice, and in danger of having Tom forcible separated from him by the captain, Conrad decides he’d rather be hung for a sheep than a lamb e.g. he might as well do the deed, if he’s already assumed to have done so. Better a short life but a merry one, as it were. Or, as he puts it should he:

“…save his heart and lose his soul? Or save his soul and lose his heart? “

The book is–I think–told entirely from the 3rd person viewpoint of Conrad, and although that felt right for the length of the book, it meant we did get a little shortchanged with getting to know Tom. All we had to go on was Conrad’s perceptions of what Tom thought and felt.  This actually pays off nicely at Tom’s reaction at the climax of the book, so I can see why this device was used, but it still leaves Tom as a little bit of an enigma in these days of dual pov books.

As usual, Ms Beecroft’s prose stuns with its seemingly effortless phrasing. Some of the descriptions are so beautiful I felt like giving up writing forever, but then her writing always makes me feel like that. She manages sometimes to mix descriptive words that are so wrong, but in her hands they feel entirely right. It’s a real gift.

Sex-wise, I think this is probably the smuttiest book that Alex has ever written, as she leans towards the more veiled sex scene as a rule, but the sex here is postively coarse (but great!). To quote one of the judges on Strictly Come Dancing “It was filthy and I loved it!”

I did feel the book was a little short, but I’m not going to mark it down for that, it was written deliberately as a novella and you can’t squeeze a quart into a pint pot. With the word count that she has, Ms Beecroft has done marvelously, and her naval descriptions — as always — are first class. There’s a bit that actually made me feel sick (sea-sick, that is) with a fantastic section where the protagonists are in their cabin and the ship is literally rolling and pitching on near enough a 90 degree angle – the floor becomes the wall and then goes all the way back. The casual way the experienced sailors deal with this, holding fast to the lines of the hammock — and each other — shows skill to portray without being confusing. It was so well done that I could feel every gravitational pull–and consequently felt rather queasy. It amused me how much more realistic it was done well in prose, than on the USS Enterprise, where everyone just leans from one side to another!

If you haven’t encountered Alex Beecroft’s longer works, particularly the Age of Sail novels (False Colors, Captain’s Surrender) then this is an excellent introduction to her remarkable talent at a reasonable price.

Amazon UK   Amazon USA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Raised by Wolves 3. Treasure by W.A. Hoffman

Gay buccaneer historical adventure/romance. The third novel in a series chronicling the adventures of Will, a disenchanted English Lord, and his beloved matelot/partner, Gaston, an exiled Frenchman, set among the buccaneers of Port Royal, Jamaica, in the 1660s. In this volume, the men ponder the true definition of sanity and the necessity of compromise in the name of love while contending with the arrival of Gaston’s father, their potential inheritances, the political machinations of Will’s father, Henry Morgan’s ambition, a bounty upon their heads, unwanted brides, and an unexpected child.

Review by Sally Davis

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with a Howard Pyle image on the cover of a novel about buccaneers! This 19th and early 20th century artist is responsible for a lot of our most enduring images of the period, his style being instantly recognisable. Very good choice.

I’m a big fan of the late 17th and early 18th century, a time when boundaries were being pushed in all kinds of interesting ways and the building blocks of modern thought were slowly and painstakingly being laid down. Great leaps were being made in science, politics, philosophy, medicine and man’s relationships with God. The buccaneers society of the 17th century was one of the more fascinating experiments, arriving at a form of democracy and satisfying emotional needs with formal same sex unions, and proving its worth over many decades. Any novel set in this era should make at least some attempt to address some of the above, but in additon, Hoffman takes a long hard look at how those unfortunate individuals suffering from mental illnesses were treated both in and out of society.

The amount of research that went into this novel is plainly to be seen. It is even written in a period appropriate style – the narrator’s voice and the descriptions of Will and Gaston’s life on Negril reminding me of Robinson Crusoe. I’m not familiar with ancient Port Royal but would lay money on the street names and distances between points being spot on. Ship names too and the over all progression of events on Morgan’s ramshackle expedition to Maracaibo were comfortingly familiar.

But this is fiction too. Will and Gaston, both noble, both emotionally damaged, one dangerously psychotic, tread a fine line as they attempt to negotiate with local government, other buccaneers, unwanted wives, much wanted babies, puppies, the sudden arrival of Gaston’s father and his interference in their affairs and the discovery that Will’s father, who appears even more psychotic than Gaston, has put a bounty on Gaston’s head. Add to that their involvement with Admiral Morgan’s expeditions and that’s a lot of plot to cover. It’s as well that this book is long – 550 pages.

Most of the first 400 pages are taken up with family matters, as described above. Will has an alcoholic and very pregnant wife, Will’s sister, Sarah, is pregnant, Gaston’s father wants a reconciliation and he also want Gaston to marry. All these stresses and strains need to be juggled without pushing Gaston into a violent episode of madness. A combination of love, laudanum, coercion, Platonic philosophy and BDSM is prescribed, to no avail, leading them to take ship to join Morgan for the last 150 pages.

There is a lot to like here but I struck an overwhelming snag – I just couldn’t warm to the narrator. I wanted very badly to like Will but I found him manipulative, reckless, smug and selfish. The personality fitted very well with the period and some of his attitudes, particularly his brutal contempt for women, rang very true. But he displayed little care for those he professed to love, even endangering Gaston. He knew he was putting them in danger, had plainly made a habit of it, but accepted their help as his due. Also, I found the continual discussions between the lovers, their adherents and enemies somewhat tedious. The reader is told huge amounts, some of the conversations go over the same ground time and again, and the action is crammed into little snapshots between. I feel that if the book had been red penned down to a tidy 400 pages with a bit more emphasis placed on buccaneering it would have been worth an excellent 4.5 stars. As it is, it’s good – 3 stars – but I feel no urge to read the 4th in the series. However, I will read the first, hoping that all the exciting military stuff happened in that one.

Author’s website

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: The Matelot by Ariel Tachna

Their pirate vessel destroyed, Captain Amery White, ship’s surgeon Gavin Watson, and quartermaster Quinn Davies are left without a livelihood or a home. The three men have served together since they were old enough to put to sea, sharing hardships and comfort until Amery and Gavin formalized their union with a matelotage—the pirate equivalent of a marriage contract.

Now they’ve been offered a letter of marque and a fine English galleon with enough speed and firepower to catch and capture any ship in the Caribbean. But their mission brings back memories long-buried and puts a strain on Amery and Gavin’s relationship, especially when the Silver Queen captures a Spanish slave ship, bringing the very young, very beautiful, and very abused Eliodoro to their crew.

Quinn finds himself torn between the love he’s always had for his friends and his desire for their new crew member. When secrets from the past come to light and cause a rift between Amery and Gavin, Quinn will have to choose between substituting for Gavin’s true love and becoming the center of Eliodoro’s world.

Review by Sal Davis

I do like pirates. I know I’m on very shaky ground historically speaking because pirates tended to be syphilitic psychopaths with bad personal hygiene and worse morals, but from an entertainment point of view pirates are excellent box office. Swash buckling, passion, open or no shirts, wind-blown hair, healthy exercise in the fresh air, a little light robbery from people who deserve it – the cover of The Matelot conjures up all of that. Cover artist Analise Dubner has produced a well-balanced sepia toned image that depicts Quinn and Eliodoro, the two main protagonists of the novel, very well.

Relationships in the book are quite complex. Amery and Gavin are in a formal relationship, having taken out articles of matelotage. This leaves old friend and some time lover, Quinn, out in the cold, listening to them boink through the thin canvas wall between his and their cabins. But discovering the gorgeous Eliodoro chained in the hold of a Spanish prize takes his mind off his loneliness. Naturally there are obstacles to their love, and Amery and Gavin’s relationship is imperilled as well before the story is brought to a satisfactory and loving conclusion. As a romantic romp the book works very well. There are sex scenes that are sufficiently different in pace and content to pique the interest, but not so frequent as to get tedious. I think that people who want a light, if substantial, read will be pleased with this.

Less pleased will be the people who are fans of Age of Sail novels. Patrick O’Brien this isn’t and even to my eyes there were enough maritime gaffes to make me giggle. There are also some editorial problems – words out-of-order, confusion of personal names, misuse of words, including ‘colossic’? – which surprised me. Dreamspinner are usually better than that. However both problems were within my tolerance and I could ignore them.

Less easy to ignore was the sheer emoness of these pirates. They all spent far more time angsting about their objects of desire than pirating. It also seemed to be an OK-Homo Caribbean since there was only one person in the novel who had a problem with the male/male relationships, and that was expressed merely as a disapproving sniff and nothing more came of it. I also had problems with the ‘abuse’ angle. Luckily none of it was shown but they talked about it a lot. Quinn, Gavin and Eliodoro had all been raped, sometimes repeatedly, with varying degrees of emotional damage.

So – emo pirates – not my cup of tea but I think that people who want a light, if lengthy, read will be pleased with this, especially if they aren’t too picky about their history.

Author’s website

Buy at Dreamspinner

Review: Home is the Sailor by Lee Rowan

The fourth book in the Royal Navy series, Home Is the Sailor is set immediately following Eye of the Storm. After an unprovoked attack during peacetime — was it revenge for their abduction of one of Bonaparte’s top military scientists? — Commander William Marshall and his lover, David Archer, are sent into hiding at David’s ancestral home in Devon.

But this is no peaceful shore leave. With the best intentions in the world, Will has discovered that his fear of losing Davy is still stronger than his desire to keep Davy beside him on the quarterdeck. And Lieutenant Archer is having problems of his own — the family that seemed so rock-solid, if distant, is staggering under the loss of its eldest son and heir. Was it an accident… or murder? And if the latter, how will he ever prove it to an autocratic father who still sees him as the inept youngest son? Out of their element, Davy and Will are thrust into the role of sleuths while trying to determine what sort of future, if any, they may have together.

Review by Jean Cox

Lee Rowan was one of the first authors I read when I discovered gay romance. Before Forster, before Renault, I was reading Ransom and Winds of Change, and parts of those books stay vividly in my mind. So it was with a mixture of delight and trepidation that I approached Home is the Sailor, because you can never tell if this is the moment a series “jumps the shark”.

I should have had more faith in the author. The book is marked by all the things which make the Royal Navy Series enjoyable—cracking plot, believable characters, an ear for dialogue and a great sense of time and place. I’ll freely admit that I’m wary of reading stories set in historical England which aren’t by British authors. Too often I’ve ended up shouting at a book, “They didn’t have that word then. That place wasn’t even built!” but that doesn’t happen with these stories. If I can ask the author direct, do you just have an extraordinary, instinctive feeling for the Age of Sail or do you and that gang of Britpickers you mention in the acknowledgement really have to weed out many anachronistic moments?

The book starts with a bang, almost literally, as we’re flung into an engagement at sea, and with immediate hints of tension between Will and Davy. Will’s frightened for his lover’s welfare, which is no mental condition for a captain to possess going into combat. Immediately we see one of the strengths of Rowan’s writing; Will and Davy are men, fighting sailors, and their relationship never obscures that. No thinly veiled women masquerading, in this case.

The action soon moves ashore, where they encounter another perilous action to negotiate; a visit to Davy’s family home, Will meeting the family and discovering a house in mourning—and anguish. Will Marshall is a fish out of water socially and the middle part of the story’s tensions come initially come from his charting his way through unfamiliar waters and Davy navigating uneasy familial ones. Will is fiercely protective of his lover, determined to see him get his due and recognition within the Archer clan.

A series of suspicious deaths—and the chance to investigate them—brings a new challenge to our heroes. Will and Davy prove they’re more than up to the task, adept at spotting the clues which will solve not just this mystery but help to heal the deep and bitter wounds that lie within Davy’s family. In so doing, they risk their lives and happiness, but ultimately find the solution to both Will’s dilemma about going into action with his lover at his side and the need to maintain a public face which obscures the reality of their relationship. They—and Ms Rowan—handle the denouement neatly and pragmatically.

I know some readers are drawn to Rowan’s books for the gorgeous love scenes, but give me the domestic banter any day. And there are times, for example when Lady Virginia talks about the threat to her unborn child, that I hear resonances of Austen, as I also do in the dinner table dialogue:.

“But it must be so exciting.” Lady Eugenie leaned forward, fluttering her lashes at Will. “Did that really happen—the Frogs, the falling yardarm?”

“Any number of times, my child.” David received the expected glare for the endearment. “And eventually it ceases to be exciting and becomes just a part of the job. May His Majesty’s Navy be preserved from midshipmen who sign aboard for the excitement!”

There are extra little delights: the deft use of real characters, such as Sir Edward Pellew, in a way that doesn’t smack of their being included just for the sake of it and an array of minor characters, such as David Newkirk, who are skilfully and economically portrayed. Rowan is a good writer, a solid and reliable author in a genre that can vary from the sublime to the unreadable.

I suspect that Home is the Sailor will become my favourite of the Royal Navy series, eclipsing Eye of the Storm; I certainly hope it isn’t the end of Will and Davy’s adventures.

Buy at Cheyenne Publishing Amazon UK Amazon USA

An Age of Sail Christmas


CLICK ON THE SNOWFLAKE TO OPEN THE DOOR!

Continue reading

This Year Maybe


CLICK ON THE SNOWFLAKE TO OPEN THE DOOR!

Continue reading

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

Review: HMS Submission by Jack Gordon

‘I know who you are.’The cat’s tangled thongs fell a second time. Mick flinched, arching away from the lash.

‘I know what you’ve done.’

Mick’s strong shoulders shivered under another blow. He caught the eye of the handsome midshipman. The stinging heat on his broad back increased, as did the burning ache between his spread legs

‘And by God, I will make your life the hell you have made mine!’

Under the command of Josiah Rock, a twisted man with cruel desires, HMS Impregnable navigates a course through pirate-infested waters of the Atlantic, bound for the Indentured Colonies. Christopher, Viscount FitzGibbons, has been forced by his father into a life on the high seas as a novice officer. Meanwhile, below decks, manacled and filthy, the roguish Mick Savage fights for food and plans his escape from the prospect of a lifetime in the penal colonies of the Americas.

The two men are unaware that they have embarked on a voyage towards a shared destiny. And they find that daring to transgress the boundaries of class and upbringing is as dangerous as becoming involved in Captain Rock’s power games or falling into the hands of lusty Spanish brigands.

Review by M. Kei

HMS Submission is a book with a split personality. The first half is a well-written, entertaining erotic comedy as the Irish rogue Mick Savage beguiles his way into the beds of a variety of England’s uppercrust, male and female, and robs them. With the assistance of his sidekick, the cutpurse Cat, he goes after the greatest prize of them all: The Gloucester Diamond. Disguised as a pair of priests, they discover that men of the cloth are just as fallible as the randy lords of London. Greed is his downfall, and he and Cat are arrested and transported to the colonies.

Meanwhile, the bookish and mild Christopher FitzGibbons is betrothed against his will to Lady Violet. Completely ignorant of sex, he finds himself strangely attracted to a Willicombe, an underfootman and young man like himself. With Willicombe’s help he attempts to get a sexual education and comic mishaps ensue. Just when he and Willicombe are finally reaching a mutually pleasurable understanding, they are discovered by Lord Christopher’s father. Lord FitzGibbons is Not Happy enlists his son in the navy to make a man of him.

And the book falls apart.

Once Christopher is assigned to the HMS Impregnable under Captain Rock, and Mick and Cat are tossed into the filthy hold along with the other prisoners Captain Rock is charged to deliver to the penal colony, the author loses faith in his materials and reverts to gay porn scenes. Previously in the book the numerous erotic encounters had some point in the story—Mick’s cuckolding of the betrothed Lord Christopher when each has no idea who the other is, for example, is an amusing scene that grows out of the characters of the various people involved and sets up the complications that will ultimately bring the two men together. The sex scenes aboard the Impregnable are not the result of any particular motivation aside from the author’s need to fill out the requisite number of pages of men screwing.

Needing to resolve Willicombe’s unrequited love for Christopher, suddenly we discover that he and Cat knew each other when they were boys and are happy to be back together again. After mistreating Mick, Captain Rock is enlightened and suddenly forgives and embraces his own gay son. Preposterously, all this happy-ending occurs aboard the ship belonging to the Spanish pirate El Niño, The Boy, who isn’t a boy at all, but either a hermaphrodite or a girl in disguise. It is El Niño who rearranges everything so that everybody (except Captain Rock) gets laid and everybody forgives and embraces everybody.

I’m all for happy endings, and those who know me know I’m utterly in love with wooden ships, but the second half of the book was a snooze. The author couldn’t tell a jib from a square sail, and aside from a few bits of wit when the other midshipmen set up the gullible Christopher for a prank, the nautical errors and mechanical behavior of characters who had formerly been engagingly believable, had me turning pages in a hurry to finish the book. One has the feeling that the publisher had a look at the manuscript in progress and snapped, “I’m paying you to write about men screwing, not Regency manners!”

What a pity. Gordon has a knack for humor. The bookish Lord Christopher—who is so earnestly struggling to be the man his father wants him to be while yearning for his books and other men—is the perfect foil for comic interludes. The reader can’t help sympathizing with the poor bewildered Christopher during the first half of the book. At the same time, Mick and Cat, whose flexible morality allows them to prey on the English, find that their streetwise wits can get them into more trouble than they bargained for. Even when we’re rooting for them to succeed, we can’t help but be amused when they get what’s coming to them—as in when Cat attempts to rob Mick after they have become lovers. I would have been very happy to read an entire book like this and given it five stars, but the second half of pirate porn ruins it.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The Year Without a Summer by G.S. Wiley

Lieutenant Robert Pierce of the Royal Navy was raised in the shadow of his father, a great admiral, and has spent his life on the high seas fighting the ships of Napoleon Bonaparte. When he loses a leg in battle and is confined to land, Robert is devastated. Taken in by his sister Maria, Robert faces the infamously cold, wet summer of 1816 trying to adjust to his new life. It’s made all the gloomier by his worry for his best friend and lover, Lieutenant John Burgess, who is still at sea…until a visitor brings a bright ray of sunshine into Robert’s overcast life.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

What happens when a career naval officer is grievously wounded and unable to return to active duty? That’s the question that is explored in this short novella.

It’s the summer of 1816, the famous “year without a summer.” Lieutenant Robert Pierce is at his sister’s home, sitting by the fire and watching the rain. He had been a career naval man, joining as a midshipman at age fourteen, until a plank of wood pierced his thigh and his left leg had to be amputated, high enough that a prosthesis was not possible. So he’s become a cripple, living with his sister, and no clue what he is going to do with the rest of his life. He does have a small inheritance from his father the Admiral and could afford to take a wife, burdening her instead of his sister. Trouble is, Robert has no interest in women. The love of his life, John Burgess, is a lieutenant aboard the Dauntless and that is who he wants to be with. If he can’t have him, is life worth living?

The story is told mostly in flashbacks, of Robert and John meeting and beginning their affair. The scenes of them together are beautiful and I loved John’s voice: “I am completely besotted with you, Mr. Pierce.” The writing is evocative. There is a scene in Italy where I could smell the lemons and see the blue sky. The cold, rainy summer in England was also well portrayed, as was Robert’s depression and unhappiness. The ending was melancholy and bittersweet, but completely realistic. And there was even, maybe—a little glimmer of hope, or at least understanding. That managed to keep me from being a sobbing mess.

This is the first story I’ve read from author G.S. Wiley and I definitely look forward to more. Wiley definitely brought the era and characters to life and I don’t have any quibbles with the historical accuracy. I’d like to read a historical story from this author with more depth and complexity; I hope one is in the works.

Buy from the publisher, Dreamspinner

Review: Pirates by G.A. Hauser

Justin Alexander Taylor had always dreamed of a life at sea. Living on the tip of England’s coastline, Justin escaped one night from his abusive father and stowed away on a ship. What Justin didn’t realize was the sloop, His Revenge, was a pirate ship, out for a broadside and gold. Captain Richard Jones escaped his own life of hell with the British Royal Navy. Leading the group of ragged men to their next adventure, Captain Jones never expected a stowaway to emerge from the bowels of the ship while they were asea. As the captain sought to protect Justin from the violent crew, a friendship blooms between him and his young charge. Soon immersed in bloody battles with Spanish galleons, the two men form a close bond which is about to be tested. Justin knew he would be in for an adventure when he left England, he just didn’t know he would find the love of his life in the process.

Spoilers ahoy!

Review by Alex Beecroft

This is quite an ambitious book, and a long one. At 223 pages it has more plot than most of the m/m Age of Sail books I’ve been reviewing recently. A quick run down of the story is going to take quite some space: Continue reading

Review: Black Wade by Franze & Andärle

Graphic Novel

Dreaded pirate Black Wade has a cruel mind and an explosive sexuality. His mercilessness is legendary, but it wavers when he encounters the young and warm-hearted English officer Jack Wilkins. these two absolutely different men are prisoners to their fate. overwhelmed by their passion they unite in a fight for freedom and love.

Review by Erastes

Age of sail pedants, abandon ship.  But everyone else, climb aboard for a fruity and surprisingly touching naughty-cal romp. (Yes, I know. I’m shameless.)

The review is under a cut because I’ve included pictures which are not for minors. Continue reading

Review: Pirates of the Narrow Seas by M. Kei

Lt. Peter Thorton of the 18th century British navy must struggle to come out gay while surviving storms at sea, ship to ship battles, duels, kidnapping, and more in his quest for true love and honor.

My own Quick Summary

Lt. Peter Thorton is in love with fellow lieutenant Perry. Both men are given commissions to serve aboard HMS Ajax, taking an Islamic envoy to talks in France. Peter makes an enemy of the Captain, who is largely incompetent but doesn’t like people who show they know it. During a storm, the Ajax comes to the rescue of a sinking Spanish galley. The Spanish abandon their vessel, leaving their slaves, chained to the oars, to sink with the ship. Peter and several of the other British sailors attempt to free the slaves and stop the galley from sinking. As they do so, the storm blows the two ships apart, leaving him surrounded by freed slaves who have no desire to voluntarily sail back to the Ajax to be reunited with their captors.

Command of the galley is taken by Isam bin Hamet al-Tangueli (Captain Tangle to his crew) a famous pirate of the Barbary coast, who had been serving as a galley slave following capture by the Spanish. The story then follows Peter’s slow naturalization into the ways of the Sallee Rovers, and his growing understanding that he’s better off in a culture that allows him to love other men without censure. Rejected by Perry and wooed by Tangle, Peter has to decide where his loyalty really lies.

(First of a series)

Review by Alex Beecroft

As Speak Its Name’s reviewer most familiar with the Age of Sail, I tend to get all the books which deal with pirates and naval officers in the 17th and 18th Centuries. This is not a bad thing, as I’m always keenly on the look out for the next Patrick O’Brian, and I enjoy a naval battle possibly slightly more than the next person.

Recently I seem to have read nothing but the kind of Age of Sail book where all the action goes on in the Great Cabin, the sails apparently handle themselves, the Captain has nothing to do except to shag his cabin boy, and wind, waves, currents and the ships of other nations never appear at all.

So I was excited to be given this book to read. I had already seen M. Kei’s blog and knew he was someone who was interested in the history and the sailing for its own sake. This, I thought, was going to be different from the outboard-motor historicals I’d read before. I went into it with great hopes.

I almost gave up on it in the first five pages. There are two flaws, IMO, that a historical novel can fall into – one is not to care about the history at all, and the other is to care so much that you load your story with all your research, so that it reads like pages out of a text book cut up and joined together with a thin excuse for a story.

At the beginning of the book, I feared I’d come up against the second type. There seemed to be a lot of explaining how the Admiralty works, explaining about the Articles of War, and the “Captain’s Cloak” which gives a captain absolute authority at sea, etc etc. By contrast there wasn’t a lot of concentration on the characters of Peter and Perry. Also, the first few chapters were very similar to the first few chapters I’ve read of very many AoS books—officers receive their orders, travel to find their ship. The ship and the other officers are introduced. They make ready to sail, etc.

So up until about chapter 7 (the chapters are quite short) I was feeling that this was a worthy attempt which had become choked by its own research.

However—this is a big however—once I hit chapter 8 I started to sit up and take notice. The story suddenly took off. The scene of Peter and his boarding party frantically struggling to free the slaves before the whole ship sank under them was nail-bitingly intense. I cast off all my quibbles and began to thoroughly enjoy myself.

From chapter 8 onwards, the story moved from the path, well-trodden by Forester and O’Brian, of adventures in the British Navy, and entered the realm of the Barbary corsairs. The research began to feel more naturally embedded in the story – for example, it becomes not only fascinating to find out that galleys have watertight bulkheads, but also vitally important for the story. The culture clash between Peter and Tangle was beautifully drawn and gripping—Peter simultaneously proving that he is an admirable, honourable man while learning to appreciate the Islamic way of doing many things, from daily washing to sail-handling.

His realization that Tangle finds him attractive and that he returns the admiration is handled beautifully. Peter has been in the grip of some pretty terrible low self esteem as a result of his “unnatural” and “abominable” inclinations, and it’s beautiful to watch his confidence blossom as he slowly begins to accept that in Tangle’s culture it really isn’t that big a deal.

Over the course of the novel, Tangle and Peter negotiate a treaty with Britain and France which enables them both to serve together united in enmity against Spain. Peter converts to Islam and resigns his commission as a result. Tangle fights a duel with Bishop (Peter’s bad ex-captain) and then spends much of the end of the book trying to get his old ship and possessions back out of the hands of his brother in law, who snapped them up when everyone thought that Tangle would never be coming back.

As is typical for an Age of Sail book, this is more of a “slice of life” than a “romance” with a strict beginning, middle and end. Things happen the way they happen in real life—unexpectedly and often surprisingly. And I like that. The plot here is formed by the arc of character development—Peter learning to accept himself, and Isam learning that although he’s a mighty pirate, sometimes there are things he can’t have all his own way. Just as I enjoyed Peter’s development from self-hatred to confidence, I enjoyed the slow way that Isam’s character went from ‘tragic heroism’ to ‘slightly overbearing but endearingly sunny’. I also enjoyed the constant nautical competence of both characters. I do like a hero who knows how to do his job!

To conclude: I loved the book. I enjoyed it immensely, and I thought it was a wonderful breath of fresh air that it concentrated on the culture of a maritime nation which normally gets cast as the baddies in AoS books.

I wish I could give it five stars. However I’m going to take off a half for the slightly belaboured start. Also—I presume because it’s self-published—there are numerous typos. I would very much urge M. Kei to offer it to a publisher like Lethe Press because I’m certain that a professional edit would be all this book needs to be perfect. Even at 4.5 stars though, if you have any interest at all in the age of sail, I highly recommend that you rush out and get this book. I received an ebook copy for the purposes of this review, but as soon as I’ve posted this I’m going to go and buy it in print.

Author’s Website

Buy at Lulu

Review: Galleons and Gangplanks by Sean Michael, Julia Talbot, Mychael Black and Willa Okati

Pirates! Rapiers! Cannons and flintlocks! These are all the idea behind Galleons and Gangplanks. Bringing back the days when pirates ruled the high seas, this collection of stories has no shortage of adventure, danger, and excitement. From Sean Michael comes Searching the Seas, a story about an honest man kidnapped by pirates, used as collateral for a trade between the pirates and the seaside village at their mercy. Things are not always as they seem, though, and soon the constable and the pirate Captain are learning to love, and live, with the past and the future. Julia Talbot’s The White City takes on the Barbary Coast, with a legendary privateer meeting his match in an Algerian sheik. But who is the captor and who is the slave in this game of cat and mouse that runs from the sun baked streets of Algiers to the waves beyond the shore? Mychael Black’s Fool’s Gold is a romp in the best pirate tradition. Searching for his father’s lost gold, a young man teams up with a salty veteran to follow a treasure map. Can the two of them find something in common besides a lust for coin? In Willa Okati’s Of Boats and Bluebeards two young men are pressed into service on a pirate ship, one of them slated to be the Captain’s new toy, the other set to backbreaking work. Can Kit and Paul find a way to escape, and to share the budding love they find with each other? Get your arrr! on!

Review by Alex Beecroft

Like most anthologies, this is a mixed bag of stories, some of which are in my opinion better than others. I think I’ll consider them separately before I think about the book over all.

Unfortunately, the first story in the anthology, “Searching the Seas” by Sean Michael is, I think, the weakest of the four. Abraham Sawyer is “a lawman” (whatever that means in the 17th/18th century, before the invention of the police), who lives on a small, peaceful island, and is taken aboard a pirate ship as a hostage following some negotiations that didn’t quite make sense to me. There he discovers that the despicable pirate is in fact his old lover who has been searching for him for years. And then they have lots of sex, and some hurt/comfort, and some more sex.

This ‘story’ is little more than a set up for endless amounts of smut. It’s fairly good smut, and if you’re looking for some explicit pirate/non-pirate porn, then it does the job. For me, I’m still shaking my head over the fact that this is the second time in as many Age of Sail books that an author has given the captain of a wooden ship a hearth in his cabin. An open fire, on a ship made entirely of inflammable wood, coated with inflammable pitch and containing a room full of gunpowder.

I realise this is probably not a deal-breaker for other people, but it is for me. For me it says “I didn’t care enough about my setting to even make the effort of looking at the internal layout of a tall ship (easily available by Googling), or sparing a moment’s thought about the realities of life at sea.” Why bother to set your story on a 17th Century ship if you’re going to write it as if it was a house on waves? Why should I, who was looking for some real tall ship action, care about a story that is just pirate-dress-up + porn? I don’t. However, if pirate-dress-up + porn is what you’re looking for, you will like this story better than I did.

I wish that the volume had opened with one of the other stories instead, because first impressions count, and all of the other stories have more to recommend them than the first.

Julia Talbot’s The White City is set in Algiers. Told alternately in the PoV of Jem Nettles, captured pirate, and his captor Hakim Reis, this is a story which is much more historically believable in terms of setting. I’m even delighted by the fact that Hakim Reis and his nemesis and overseer turn out to be British pirates employed by the Dey, like the infamous trio of Dutch pirates who ‘turned Turk’ in the early 17th Century.

Hakim finds himself falling in love with his captive and refuses to turn him over to his boss, Sharim Reis. Sharim is annoyed, as Jem has been a pain in his neck and he wants to see the annoying man punished. So Sharim captures Hakim, and is about to teach him a painful lesson when Jem (who has seized the opportunity to escape from them both,) rallies his scattered ship’s crew and rescues him. There is some sex with dubious consent in the story, and it is quite hard to see what it is that draws Jem and Hakim together and makes them willing to risk so much for each other. But it was so nice to see a setting that I could believe in, and a story that had some plot, that I put this down to the mysteries of love and just enjoyed the suspense of wondering what was going to happen next.

I liked this one and would like to read something longer by her.

Fool’s Gold by Mychael Black features mature pirate Ian Bowers being employed by naïve young gentleman Silas Christian to find the treasure to which Christian’s father has left him a map. Over the course of the story we discover that Christian is not really naïve, nor a gentleman at all, he’s actually the son of Bowers’ previous captain and lover. During the hunt for this and then a second treasure, the two of them fall in love, and Bowers has to prove to Christian that (a) he loves the son as much as he ever did the father, and (b) he’s willing to give up the sea in order to be with Christian.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I thought the characters were interesting, and the tangled story would have benefitted from being expanded to novel length and fully explored. I never did quite understand why anyone had to give up the sea – they could have become legitimate merchants rather than pirates and carried on sailing. There was a lot in here in terms of story and backstory and aims and themes and characterisation, and I felt it didn’t get a chance to be what it could have been because of the short length and the need to stuff it full of sex scenes. There are a lot of sex scenes, and I’m afraid my eyes did glaze over at points.

I can’t stop myself from saying that no 17th Century gentleman would be wearing trousers and boots, though. Trousers are not worn by respectable people until the early 19th Century. And this must be a 17th Century setting because a lot of it is set in Port Royal before the earthquake.

This one was interesting, I thought. Lots of potential, which I’d have loved to see expanded, but (IMO) sidetracked by too much sex. Again, your mileage may vary if the sex is what you’re looking for in the first place.

Of Boats and Bluebeards by Willa Okati:

Kit’s lover David runs away to sea and is drowned. Kit’s uncle, on finding out that Kit has a male lover, treats him so badly that Kit runs away to the docks too, hoping to be taken on as a sailor. This duly happens, but not before Kit acquires a hanger on in the shape of Paul, who is an old friend of David’s. However, the handsome and obliging captain who has press-ganged them both turns out to be a pirate of the old school – a rapist and murderer with a grizzly surprise locked away in one of the store rooms on his ship.

Despite the fact that this is another ship which leaves only a skeleton crew on watch at night (better than none at all, but still, what happens when the wind changes and there aren’t enough men to man the sails?) and continues to use the cannon even when boarding (thus mowing down their own men) I enjoyed this story. It’s refreshing to find a pirate who is genuinely piratical and not very nice. The threat of rape hanging over Kit, and the later threat of murder gave the story a real tension and suspense, and there’s a wonderfully grotesque and gruesome moment half way through that really had an impact on me. Paul and Kit’s hate/love relationship was also a nice twist, and I liked the open-ended ending which took them out of immediate danger but allowed them to go on to further adventures together.

Given the title and the historical Bluebeard, I should have been expecting the surprise, but I wasn’t, and I give the story due kudos for that. It woke me up, and I like that.

So… on the whole this anthology presents more good than bad. Few of the stories are exactly historically correct, but (except for the hearth) the anachronisms are not so egregious that I couldn’t enjoy the stories despite them. There was too much sex for me, but there was at least enough story to keep me reading despite that. One of the best examples of its sort, I think, and if you’re actually looking for erotica rather than romance it would be even better.

Amazon UK Amazon USA Kindle Buy from Torquere

Review: Le Frai de Demon by Sarah Masters

Life at sea brings new experiences to Vincent, but tragedy eclipses the happiness in his heart. Blurb: As Le Frai De Demon coasts the ocean waves, Vincent and Julian continue their love affair. Upon arriving at Hellion to trade wares, Julian takes Vincent to a special place where the crack of a whip brings them both pleasure. However, their private time is interrupted when a crew member brings news of a rogue trader causing trouble. The men return to the ship intent on leaving Hellion as soon as possible, but a tragedy is in their midst. Once at sea again, Le Frai De Demon battles through a storm, but will all the crew survive?

Review by Erastes

This is a sequel to Devil’s Spawn reviewed last year, which I must admit I haven’t read, so it was interesting to me whether it could stand on its own.  I found it didn’t, not really–as within the first couple of pages I was a bit confused as to who anyone was and why they were there.  The crew seemed entirely accepting of Vincent and Julian, and in fact seemed all gay themselves which is a fantasy trope I can do without.

The ship docks at an unnamed place–dubbed Hellion by Julian, but we are told that’s not its real name–and predictably, there’s a brothel there that caters for homosexuals. There’s one major sex scene, which involves a woman whipping the pair of them, which I really didn’t like that much–I don’t see the attraction of whipping, when it’s out of context–there didn’t seem to be any BDSM relationship between the two of them – and I wasn’t expecting any female action in my m/m.

The language tries hard to be old fashioned, and is a tad too purple for my current taste, but the lack of care with anachronistic words such as adrenaline and libido jars from time to time.  Libido dates from around 1892 – although there’s no time frame to this story.  With the mention of breeches and sailors, I am guessing late 18th century/early 19th, but there’s no real way to tell.

I have to say, that it rather surprised me, that when the ship seemed to be in trouble and they had to get out of Hellion in a hurry, the pair retired to their cabin to shag, rather than to take care of the necessities of leaving port. In fact, it’s Vincent, not the captain, Julian, who eventually says that they should get out of bed and go and help the crew who are struggling with a storm!

The blurb promises excitement in the storm, but as they spent most of it in bed, saying that the crew can cope, I rather lost my sympathy for the pair of them.

Age of Sail purists should probably avoid this.

Other than that, I think my main concern is that there’s no actual plot. The men dock at a port, are chased off, get into a storm, shag a lot, speak endless endearments and that’s about it.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, which was set up from the beginning, but nothing actually happened, and as with the last book, the entire plot is described within the blurb.  Even with my short stories, I expect some kind of surprise.

So, it doesn’t really work as a standalone, I’m afraid, whatever happened in the first book might explain some of the bafflement – and I understand that this is an ongoing series, with five books now–but at two-three dollars each, I think I’d prefer one whole book to read.

Buy from Lovedivine Alterotica (also available on Fictionwise and Kindle)

Review: Hidden Conflict (various)

Hidden Conflict presents four novellas that tell the experiences of gay military men, their families and friends, during times of conflict and war. Each story presents a unique voice at a distinct time in history.

Review by Vashtan

I’ve been in a reviewing funk over the question how to review and to what end. While I still believe that honest reviews require the occasional lashing, I concur with a friend who holds that reviewers should offer advice to authors as well as readers. Now, that requires a slightly different approach, and makes this a bit more difficult.

Not only would a reviewer have to express an opinion on something as intangible as moods and one’s personal reflections (easier thought than written), but also find the perceived “fatal flaw” in the writing and point it out so it can be fixed. This approach actually places a reviewer in the camp of the editor. What I then review is not just that author’s command of the craft, but the editor’s ability or inability to spot and fix issues. A weak book would then be not only the fault of an author, but the flaw of an editor in not fixing it, and the publisher for acquiring the text and contracting it. I will have to do more thinking about it.

Thankfully, “Hidden Conflict” is, by and large, an easy vote. I really enjoyed it. One word of warning. This is not a collection of romances. Only one text fits the bill and provides a happily ever after (at least we can hope that), while the other texts explore loss, suffering, social stigma, “fitting in with the boys” and barely-verbalised or expressed desire. This is also not the book for steamy sex scenes, so I would place this firmly in the camp of “gay historical writing”. What this book gives you is four intense,
emotional journeys, each one firmly grounded in history and fact. We see Native Americans counting coup, experience the mind-numbing shelling of WWI and the terrible wastelands of mud and rain, and the loss of families and boyfriends knowing their loved died “somewhere across the ocean”. Alienation, shell-shock, and the terror of war. In this, the authors explore the mind of the fighting man; the comradery,
the emotional bonds forged on the battlefield, looking out for one’s fellow man. As a historian with a strong bent towards military history, I’m always astonished at how war brings out the best and worst in humanity; both our bestial natures and our utterly selfless ability to sacrifice and preserve, and to value life most in the destruction of it. I felt the authors all grappled with those questions, so this is not a book for those who fancy men in uniforms getting it on. It’s so much more than that, which makes it difficult
to review.

All of the stories are well-written and carefully edited; the cover expresses the essence of the book well as a collection of four different voices. “Romance” as in romantic attachment, the possibility to love, the desire to love and hold features in the anthology, of course. It can be a love story against all odds and society as in “Blessed Isle” by Alex Beecroft, a (possibly) unrequited love and uncanny, ambivalent, maybe brotherly love as in “Not to Reason Why” by Mark Probst, or the potential of love that was sadly cut short like so many lives during WWI in “No Darkness”, and, with a different slant in “Our One and Only” by E.N. Holland, which focuses on the survivors and their ability – or inability – to move on after loss. But the setting is very real, too, and I found no major flaw with the research in terms of military and gay history. A different reviewer pointed out issues of military protocol in some of the stories, but as a civilian, I didn’t spot them.

Now comes the part where I have to choose a favourite, I guess, and the vote is clearly on “Blessed Isle” by Alex Beecroft. I read her “False Colors” and it blew me away, and she did it again, with less words. Minor craft issues I had with “False Colors” (focusing on viewpoint, voice, and pacing) are gone in “Blessed Isle”. Beecroft continues to astound and amaze, and this story went down like very old, accomplished Bordeaux wine, served just exactly right. It’s not a story that you can “just read”, you have to savour it. The language was pitch-perfect, and I recommend taking your time to work out the nuances and let them resonate. Sometimes, prose is so well-made that it becomes a rush and a pleasure all by itself. The story Beecroft tells and the exploration of the characters just heighten the pleasure, but it’s always her prose that gets me first. Were “Blessed Isle” on it’s own, it would be a rare five stars.

The reason why the others aren’t my favourites (I hope that sentence makes sense) are minor. Each story would rate highly on its own (in the 4-star range), but I have minor quibbles with each one. “Not to Reason Why” by Mark Probst is emotionally honest (and I love authors facing those emotions – it takes a special kind of bravery), but I
didn’t fully warm with the main character, Brett Price. While it was painful to see him stumble through the battlefield and tell us all about the horrors of the massacre (well-done, gruesome writing), I didn’t quite warm with him. He appeared through much of this as a love-struck puppy, and I kept wanting to tell him to “man up” and stop
pining. But then, how many of us do manage to do that when our friends tell us? Exactly.

“No Darkness” by Jordan Taylor sets out on a very difficult task—to tell a story with two men in a cellar, fearing impending death, and growing close by telling their stories. The story is heavy on dialogue, and attempts to draw the characters by dialogue, a task that
it didn’t quite accomplish for me. While I can believe that hysteria and stress (one is wounded) can make people sound more cheerful than I would expect them to sound under such circumstances, there were moments in the dialogue where I thought that the characters were on the verge of being self-indulgent, telling all those anecdotes while
quite literally fighting for their lives. I’d expect more of the raw stress and fear to come out, so I would have tightened up the dialogue quite a bit more than was done. The strongest parts of the story, I felt, were those where the characters don’t talk.

The last story, “Our One and Only” by E.N. Holland explores the loss of a loved one, a life lost in battle during WWII, from the viewpoint of his lover. I struggled a bit with this story; while I understand that many struggle to move on after a loss, I felt forty years of
mourning was excessive, especially since the surviving boyfriend never had any other relationships and has never fallen in love. Instead of romantic, I felt “what a waste of one’s life”, but maybe I’m too cynical. The story explores the surviving boyfriend’s life, his
inability to let go, how he is part of the family of his beloved Edward, taking Edward’s position, while keeping his mourning mostly silent, “lover” becomes “good friend”. Nevertheless, I felt the story dragged and would benefit from some well-placed strategic cuts.

As diverse as these stories are, there is one for everyone, and I believe nobody can read this without being profoundly moved by the writing and the depth of emotion the authors explore. Bravo.

Cheyenne Publishing (print)  Bristlecone Pine Press (Ebook)

Review: One Man Drowing by Steph Minns

Running away in 1762 from a dull life in fashionable Georgian Bath, Jesse Sunderland joins an ocean-going merchant ship. Just nineteen years old, naive and keen for adventure in the expanding world where England rules the seas and dominates the colonies, he has to not only deal with the harshness of this life at sea but coming to terms with himself and essentially his homosexuality, a hanging offence by law in these times. His adventures take him into a passionate affair with the charismatic Captain Jan Hough, who embroils him in his smuggling racket. Set in the ‘golden age’ of the 18th century English smuggler, this is the tale of one man’s quest to find himself, as he battles not only his own demons but the authorities as he is drawn into the dark and dangerous underworld of the smuggler.

Review by Alex Beecroft

As a reader, I’m firmly of the opinion that life is too short to read bad books. So if a book makes me go “oh, for goodness sake!” and throw it down in annoyance repeatedly in the first ten pages, as a reader I would just stop picking it up again. As a reviewer, however, I have a duty to read the whole thing, to see if it gets any better towards the end. Sometimes books do, and you’re glad you held on. The excellence of the end makes it worth having ploughed through the beginning.

One Man Drowning does indeed make me go “oh, for goodness sake!” repeatedly at the beginning. There are so many anachronisms; so many things about what we’re told that don’t make sense in the context. For example, our hero is from a good family (his mother’s family is titled, she ‘spent her first season at the Palace of Marseille‘, and she is well respected among the high society of Bath). But they are impoverished, and he is marrying a girl from a family who runs a successful business, in order to get hold of her money.

So far so good. In the context of the society of the time it makes sense for him to marry the girl, get hold of the money, and then carry on living as a gentleman. He is getting money out of the bargain and she is getting increased status as a gentleman’s wife. But then he goes and lives in his mother-in-law’s house, and gets a job helping her sons run the family business. It makes no sense for him to immediately destroy his status by lowering himself to his wife’s social level. If he did, not only would it negate any benefit she got out of the deal, but the shame and degradation his mother would feel would be acute. Yet she doesn’t appear to feel any shame about his working for a living, and neither does he.

If you’re not sure I’m talking sense about the social stigma involved in work, think about Jane Fairfax in Emma and how she seems to feel that becoming a governess is only one step above becoming a whore. How all people of true sensibility feel terrible for her and try not to mention her oncoming degradation. Think about Pride and Prejudice, and the way all Darcy’s relatives consider that he can’t possibly marry Elizabeth—not because she isn’t a gentleman’s daughter herself, but simply because some of her relations are in trade.

So the set up on the very first page makes me think that the author has no real insight into the thought processes of a character born into society at that time. It makes me think that we are going to get modern characters and modern attitudes wearing dress-up, rather than any real approach to history.

And honestly, I think that reading further proves me right about that. Jesse’s worries appear to be the worries of a man who knows nothing about the society he lives in. He marries this girl for convenience, and all through the ceremony he is plagued by the thought that he doesn’t love her, and that he’s being a cad. Why? Marrying for love was a new and suspicious phenomenon at the time. Marrying as a business merger was a time honoured tradition and Jesse’s tortured scruples just make me think he’s a little ahead of his time.

Jesse actually likes the girl’s brother, James, who likes him back. They get as far as necking on the hearth-rug (without troubling to lock the door) and are discovered by James’ mother. This is clearly a society of matriarchs, because James’ mother takes it up with Jesse’s mother, and she has this verdict:

“But this cannot bring you anything but pain. It is all wrong, Jesse.”

“Wrong? [he replies] I’m in pain now by denying what I feel! Look at the pain I’ve caused Dora too because of the hiding, the dishonesty. Can you tell me that’s right? To hide my true self from society in case, oh God forbid, it disapproves of me and makes me an outcast? Pray don’t turn sanctimonious on me now as I know you are no Bible basher!”

Here we are on page 6 of 269 and I don’t want to read any more. “Bible basher”? Apart from being a phrase that was first recorded in 1885, where on earth is Jesse getting his conviction that only the sanctimonious would disapprove of sodomy? Everyone in British society at the time, from whores to archbishops, at least publicly disapproved of sodomy. And “in case society makes me an outcast”?! Don’t you mean “in case I’m hanged by the neck until dead” or “in case I’m put in the pillory so that the crowd can beat and stone me to death.”?

Where is he getting his pop psychological notions about how damaging it is to deny what he feels? He’s talking like a 21st Century teenager, and at this point I have lost all faith that I’m in a historical at all.

As the book goes on, this only becomes more and more apparent. Jesse apparently thinks that fox hunting is barbaric—a strange attitude for a high born man of his time. He thinks that bloodletting is barbaric (he just happens to know a doctor who just happened to train in China, and on the basis of this acquaintance he rejects a thousand years of medical authority.) He takes every opportunity – or rather the author takes every opportunity, because Jesse scarcely rises above the level of ‘mouthpiece’ until just before the end – to condemn every facet of his society.

Seriously, if I wanted to read a polemic about the evils of Christianity, and how it’s all ‘dogmatic drivel’ which no person of any intelligence or moral fibre could believe, I would not go to historical fiction to find it. Apart from being intrusively preachy, it’s another example of Jesse’s aggressively modern attitude which does not make him in the slightest bit believable for a man of his time.

In the same way, when he’s transported to America for 15 years for smuggling, and given a cushy job as a gardener, instead of being thankful that he’s got off lightly, he cheeks his supervisor and is somehow surprised to be punished. Then he actually slaps the lady of the house and is again surprised to be whipped within an inch of his life. I find it hard to believe that anyone could be that blithely oblivious and stupid.

While he’s there, the author uses him to indulge in further lectures about the evils of colonisation. Which I’m sure is very worthy, but I’m equally certain that his thoughts make him something of a prodigy for his era.

To be fair, I would not deny that an 18th Century man – by virtue of being an independent thinker – could have reached surprisingly egalitarian and modern positions on many things, if that person was presented as a deep philosophical thinker. I have no objection to Steven Maturin, for example, (from the Patrick O’Brian books) who unites some very modern views with a thoroughly 18th Century character. But I don’t see Jesse being presented as that kind of a philosopher. He doesn’t come across as an 18th Century man who has thought deeply about injustice. He comes across as a mouthpiece for a modern author who wants to display how politically correct she is.

She also has a tendency to break out into paragraphs of “my research, let me show you it” facts that read as if they’ve been copied from a text book. For example:

The Powhatans spoke a group language he said settlers knew as “Algonquian”, which they shared with related clans. I came to understand that to them the planet was a conscious being, inhabited by birds and creatures which all had their own spirits and they saw them as fellows, not inferiors. When a game animal was shot or captured it was thanked in a small prayer for giving up its life. I noticed during our hunting trips that not one warrior failed to do this quietly for each rabbit, deer, or bird he took.

This does contribute to a feeling that you are reading an uneven blend of anti-Christian anti-European polemic, non-fiction and anachronism. You’re not being entertained, or even shown the mechanisms, reasons and appalling consequences of colonialism, so that you can come to a deeper understanding of what really went on at the time. You’re being lectured. And I like being preached at no better than she does.

I would not say there was a story. Things happen to Jesse and he reacts to them. Then other things happen. He lurches from one disaster to the next. He’s a reluctant bridegroom. He runs away from his first lover to become a sailor. Then he’s a reluctant housewife, then he’s a reluctant smuggler, then he’s a reluctant convict, then he’s a reluctant revolutionary, then revolution starts looking dangerous so he decides to sell cheese. Then he (reluctantly) takes up with an Earl who happens to come along (but it’s all right because he’s an Earl who wants to live like a peasant), then he’s driven out of his house and goes off to be a smuggler again, then that gets too dangerous and he moves on to something else…. Admittedly, the ending resolves a number of things which had been left hanging, but it’s also a curiously unsatisfying ending, as you’re left with the impression that the next disaster is just around the corner.

Jesse himself is a very passive character and doesn’t appear to have any goals other than being sent to places so that the author can use him to give us her opinions about them. These opinions are generally without nuance—for example, all settlers appear to be evil, all slaves saintly, all Native Americans noble and kindly and supernaturally connected to nature.

I can’t even recommend the book as an interesting way of learning historical facts. I don’t know anything about the Powhatan, for example, so I can’t say how accurate the book is about them, but I do know that Holland was not a Catholic country in the 18th Century. When (following a barn burning) Jesse muses “Such a crime would be …barely considered anything but natural justice by the Catholic Church and the Amsterdam authorities.” I wonder how he’s managed to miss that the country has been Protestant for over a century. I also know about 18th Century ships, and the fact that the Captain of the Viper has “a small hearth with leaping flames” in his cabin makes me think that the level of historical accuracy is unreliable at best.

I think the book would have benefited enormously from the input of a skilled editor. Apart from eliminating the numerous typos, an editor might have been able to encourage the author to show rather than tell. The author clearly is passionate about what she believes in, but she has not yet learned how to immerse her reader in her imaginary world and invisibly guide them to live through the lessons she wants to convey. Currently the book is not an experience, it’s a lecture.

I began to be slightly more interested towards page 200, when Jesse went to Cornwall and actually started to drive the action of the book rather than just being tossed around by his circumstances. Once he became more active in the plot, he stopped, on the whole, being such a pathetic, whiny, judgemental git and I found myself more sympathetic to him. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the end made me glad that I’d suffered through the first 200 pages, but it earned the book the 1.5 stars that it gets, and demonstrated a promise that the next book from this author might be better.

Full disclosure

1. I received this book free in exchange for a review

2. I am a Christian myself, so I may be more annoyed than the average person of other beliefs about the anti-Christian bits. I have, however, tried not to let that influence my review. If the author had been equally preachy for or against any other faith, I believe I would still have pointed that out as a criticism. I don’t think a novel benefits from being used as a soapbox for the author’s views, whatever they are.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Drawing the Veil by Stevie Woods

The exciting prequel to Beyond the Veil!

Read how Malik became the pirate captain who fell for Robert, and how he was forced into a life of pain, fear and violence following his capture by the Corsairs.

Review by Erastes

This is a prequel and sequel to “Beyond the Veil” which was reviewed earlier on the Blog.

Like the first book, it’s a fast paced adventure story, with emphasis on the plot, and not the sex – which is how I like it, but because Malik’s story is not as tender and kind as Robert and David’s,  readers might find it a harder read. And not in a good way!

Malik doesn’t have an easy time of it; captured by pirates and instead of being forced to crew, he’s taken by the wicked captain™ as a sex slave.  This was something I’d read so often, I found myself rolling my eyes when I discovered what Malik’s fate was, but I suppose the whole rape fantasy does appeal to some people.  I didn’t find the captain anything other than entirely two dimensional almost one-d if that’s possible, he’s a monster pure and simple–and while that’s quite believable (because the POV we see him from is Malik’s)–I wouldn’t have minded have seeing something of the man as well as the monster.

This first section of the book is pretty unrelenting–there’s nothing nice or titillating about Malik’s predicament (and that’s entirely as it should be imho) but when Malik sinks into remembrances of his relationship with his beloved Robert, I would have liked a lot more tender eroticism to balance the dark of Malik’s current torment.

However, it’s a brave stance, and I see why Woods did it this way; Malik’s past, and the softer traits of his personality, are gradually razed, and he becomes a harder, darker man in himself, he stops being the kind of crew member who tries to save the victims of the pirate’s predation, and becomes one of the pirates.  I applauded this, because some writers would have made Malik a 21st century man, baulking at the horrible things he had to do.  You never get the feeling that Malik revels in his activities, but he certainly realises that it’s his life, and he needs to make the most of it. Not only that, but he feels he can’t accept any male contact again.

The friendships that Malik eventually makes were rather rushed–and this is probably due to the length of the book – it’s 80 pages or so (whereas Beyond the Veil was full sized at 220 pages)–and Drawing the Veil would not have been at all damaged from extension. Once Malik is discarded by the Evil Captain™ and joins the crew proper I found myself wondering why he (and another of the crew who complains that he is nothing more than a prisoner) don’t or can’t escape.  The ship makes landfall pretty often, and no escapes are made, and no reason is made for this.

After Malik’s freedom from his sex slavedom,  the book takes a turn, and for me that’s where the characterisation disintegrates.  Malik goes through the fire of two years of rape, and becomes this hardened bitter man, but in no time at all he starts to lust after someone else, and we find he’s actually a sulking, weepy, whiny man and one that falls in love after just one fuck – which simply doesn’t gel at all with the man he’d grown to be, shutting himself off from emotion and male lusts.

I know nothing much of the Age of Sail, and perhaps I should have asked one of my AoS reviewers to review this, but as a layperson in the genre, it worked ok for me, and it’s clear that Woods has done a hell of a lot of research and if there are sea battle errors or ship description problems they certainly didn’t show if you aren’t an expert.  It’s the characterisation rather than the historical detailing that weaken this novella for me.  If you’ve read Beyond the Veil first and found that Malik was in fact in love with a woman, you’d be confused too because the canon simply doesnt’ mesh.

However, I do recommend this book, as it’s a roaring good read and stands on its own.

Author’s website

Buy at Phaze

Review: Lover’s Knots by Katherine Cross

Third Lieutenant Andrew Clayton wanted senior officer Daniel Barrett from the moment they first met. Something about the charismatic man with the scarred knuckles and street-tough voice heats Andrew’s blood and makes his body ache. He’d give up everything for just one taste of the forbidden—his position in Society, his commission…even his life.

Daniel’s sure he’s losing his mind. Nothing else could explain his obsession with noble-born Andrew or his constant desire to spread him across the wardroom table and mark his fair skin. In His Majesty’s Royal Navy, the punishment for their love is death. One misstep could have them both at the end of a hangman’s noose.

But everything changes when they’re granted an unexpected leave. Far from the captain’s watchful eye, Daniel agrees to one week—seven days to explore each other’s bodies, to let four years of suppressed desire consume them—before they must return to their ship and the way things were. But some passions can’t be tamed once unleashed, and some dangers are worth the risk.

Review by Alex Beecroft

I know I said, just in my last review, that I didn’t like erotica much. So it seems like a dose of poetic justice that this should be the very next book I read. This is a very sexy book indeed and I loved it.

There’s not a great deal of story; we open with the ship on blockade duty, patrolling up and down the coast of France to stop any potential French invasion fleet from leaving harbour. This duty which is tedious at the best of times provides plenty of opportunity for Andrew to yearn for Daniel, angst about what Daniel would think of him if he knew, and enjoy some scorchingly explicit dreams.

Daniel’s low born roots and current high status make an enemy of the fourth lieutenant, Edmund Sinclair, who has designs on Daniel’s job and – it emerges later- on his person as well. However, before he can manage to find any weapon to use against Daniel, the ship is directed back home to England for the Captain’s wedding.

On the way, Daniel lets slip to Andrew that he is that way inclined too, and has been lusting after Andrew for some time. Further angst ensues as Daniel does the sensible thing and insists that nothing should happen between them.

However, by dint of cunning and determination, Andrew convinces him to at least spend the seven days of their upcoming leave in bed together, and much further highly entertaining sex ensues.

Unfortunately, the moment they reappear in public they make a disastrous mistake and are spotted kissing by their First lieutenant and by Sinclair. Given the opportunity he was looking for to hurt Daniel, Sinclair proves not to be the cad we thought he was, and doesn’t use it. The first lieutenant also keeps mum, and during a battle with the French, the two lads behave heroically and all is forgiven.

Put like that, the story is not enthralling. In fact I would say that the story is the weakest thing in the book. Not a great deal happens, and the villain who has been set up to provide some feeling of threat fortuitously turns out not to be a villain at all. Despite a battle at sea, there isn’t a lot of conflict, and this does rather undermine the characters tendency to angst about how dreadful it would be if they were ever found out.

But I don’t think that anyone who was reading this book would be doing so for the story. It’s an Ellora’s Cave book, and its intended audience are people who are looking for a sexy read. This is certainly that, the sex scenes are numerous, emotionally and sensually involving, mean something to the characters and therefore also to the reader, and are very very intense and hot.

The book is also beautifully written with a lovely spare style which is however not lacking in detail and description. And the historical research and setting are absolutely impeccable. No topless waiters and glassed-in portholes here. The scenes on HMS Charon are the real deal. I may not be sure about “swabbing the barrel” as a command – I’m fairly certain it would be “worm and sponge” – but I suspect that’s just a translation for the sake of greater clarity. Apart from that little nitpick, however the sea scenes are wonderful, and could have graced CS Forester. I’d have liked to see more of them, in fact.

That’s my main problem with this book – I would have liked it to be longer. I’d have liked to see Sinclair go through on his threat, and how the lads dealt with that. I’d have liked more of the action at sea that Katherine Cross proves she can do so splendidly. I’d have liked the heroes to have to struggle harder for their happy ending. Maybe a couple of hundred pages harder J

I also had a minor problem with the character of Daniel. Throughout, we hear about what a great leader he is, how everyone loves him, even the villain, how he’s born to be a captain despite his low birth. Everyone seemed determined that he should be given a command of his own, and the social and financial support he needed to get it. And the more everyone in the book praised him and said he was wonderful, the more I ended up mildly disliking the man.

He doesn’t act like a born leader. It’s Andrew (whom the book tells us is a natural follower) who forces the issue between them. Andrew decides that he will use his family connections to get Daniel a command, and drives this decision through despite Daniel’s protests. Andrew overcomes Daniel’s determination not to get sexually involved, and it’s Andrew at the end of the book who continues to drive the action.

The book’s insistence on Daniel as the ‘alpha’ of the pair, and as the one destined for greatness didn’t really match the way they came across to me, and ran the risk of making me dislike Daniel as a Mary Sue. But having said that, despite this, I did like him anyway, as a sort of gentle, immovable rock of a man, and I liked Andrew even more for his nervous but unstoppable determination.

This is definitely the best piece of Age of Sail erotica I’ve read recently, and I can only reiterate my wish that she would try something longer and more plot heavy to let all that lovely historical setting and research shine out even more.

Buy from Ellora’s Cave

Review: Devil’s Spawn by Sarah Masters

After an altercation with Vincent, Julian leaves the ton as captain of Le Frai de Démon, trading his wares in foreign parts. Two years pass, two years of Vincent abstaining from sex and mourning the loss of his love. Week nights, gay men gather in Devil’s Spawn, Julian’s club, and though Vincent doesn’t partake in sexual contact, he visits the club as a way to bring Julian closer despite his absence. One night, Vincent’s life is turned upside down with the return of Julian. Though his heart tells him to open up and allow Julian in, his pride rears its stubborn head. Will Julian be able to break down the barriers? And will Vincent find out why Julian is really called The Master?

Review by Alex Beecroft

The blurb for this 30 page story pretty much sums up the entire plot – particularly when it’s obvious that the answer to the rhetorical questions at the end is “yes”.

I feel I should preface everything I say by confessing up front that I am not a fan of erotica, and I’m particularly not a fan of the combination of porn and schmoop. You know the kind of thing—where five pages of throbbing cocks and spunk and improbable recovery times are punctuated by scenes of men talking like teenage girls about soulmates and saving themselves for their one true love and calling each other “baby”.

This story is very much something of that kind. If you like that kind of thing, you may well like this. And you may like it better if you prefer your ‘history’ to be nothing more than a thin veneer of flowery language and a tall ship on the cover.

If you prefer your history to be history and your characters to be firmly men of their century, however, you are unlikely to be enthralled by the level of detail and accuracy in this one. I… can’t tell when in history this is supposed to be set. The characters’ way of speaking and the mention of the ton would indicate possibly Regency. But the inside layout of Julian’s ship is more like something you’d find in a pleasure liner of a century later or more. A double bed on an 18th Century ship? At the end of a passageway lined by doors? Really no. Round portholes in the Captain’s cabin, with no cannon to fire through them? No.

Equally, Julian’s club bears little resemblance to the kind of molly house described in Rictor Norton’s research. Perhaps it’s not meant to—perhaps it’s meant to be a gay gentleman’s club, like a gay version of Whites. But even so, I doubt it would have topless bartenders. It’s a modern nightclub, retrofitted with period costume.

The backstory of Vincent, our POV character, makes no sense at all at any historical period. Vincent’s grandfather was the sort of farmer who held down his own sheep at shearing time. That makes him a peasant. A salt-of-the-earth working man. Yet we’re told he left Vincent enough money to enable Vincent not to have to work at all. That’s one impossibility before breakfast. Then we learn that Vincent—who is, throughout, successfully passing as a gentleman—was bored, not working, so he decided to become a bank clerk instead. No. No way. This would have been social suicide. This back story could only have been written by someone who knew nothing whatsoever about the workings of the British class system in this or any other century. It’s frankly unbelievable.

Does it matter? To me it does. If I can’t believe the character’s background or his surroundings, I find it harder to care about him. And I found it very hard to care about either Vincent or Julian in this. Vincent—aside from the implausible backstory—has no personality. He’s been implausibly celibate for the last two years after (if I’m reading this right) Julian didn’t actually get around to shagging him the last time. This may be supposed to be romantic but I just thought it was rather pathetic of him.

Julian in the mean time has set things up so that his current squeeze will come along as he’s penetrating Vincent, just in time to be thrown away like a used condom. I get the impression that this was supposed to be romantic too, in an “I never cared for anyone but you, Vincent” way, but surprisingly, Julian acting like a complete tosser to one boyfriend in the middle of rodgering another one did not endear him to me.

Add in a little, half-hearted, “is it really supposed to be BDSM or am I just reading too much into the whole ‘Master’ thing?” And it all adds up to something that just did nothing for me at all. I didn’t find any of it hot, but then I generally don’t, with erotica, so it’s hard for me to say whether this was good erotica or not.

If you enjoy porn + schmoop + a window dressing of ‘historical’ without too much of the inconvenient reality, it may be just the thing for you. If not, it is at least short, so you wouldn’t be wasting too much time if you decided to check it out just in case, but I really can’t recommend it.

Fictionwise

Review: False Colors by Alex Beecroft

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

False Colors, by Alex Beecroft, is one of two books recently released by Running Press in their new line of m/m historicals (the other is Trangressions, by Erastes). Two more books are scheduled to be released in the third quarter of 2009. I have read both False Colors and Transgressions and if these are indicative of the types of books Running Press will be publishing, we fans of the genre are very lucky readers, indeed.

False Colors is Ms. Beecroft’s second historical novel and like her first, Captain’s Surrender, it takes place during the time when the British Royal Navy ruled the seas and half the world—-the golden “Age of Sail.” The story opens in 1762 with Lt. John Cavendish receiving his first captaincy and an assignment to stop the Barbary Corsairs off the coast of Algeria. Alfie Donwell signs on as his first lieutenant and it is clear from their very first meeting that Alfie has eyes
for John. But it will be a long time, ie, the whole book, with lots of adventures and misunderstanding in between, before they get to the point where they are able to negotiate their relationship and realize how they feel about each other.

Because John and Alfie spend so much time apart, the book is very much about their individual journeys to discover who they are—-until they have come to this realization, they can’t really be together. It’s an interesting dynamic and Ms. Beecroft handles the character development skillfully, having both men grow and mature from page to page. John’s growth is fueled by some particularly horrific situations in which he finds himself, as well as working to cast off beliefs ingrained into him from his youth and family life. Alfie, on the other hand, matures by falling in love with another man (although he never really falls out of love with John). As I enjoy character studies, I found Alfie’s portion of the story to be a bit more engaging but really, we’re talking “great” and “greater”—minute gradations of difference in excellence.

There’s a cast of secondary characters who are extremely well-drawn. In particular, I found myself going back and re-reading the parts of the story that featured Charles Farrant, Captain Lord Lisburn. He’s the Captain of the Britannia, the second ship in the story on which Alfie serves. He’s attracted to men and knows it but has done the things “required” of him to deny his homosexuality, including marrying, fathering children, and undergoing various “cures” from his physician in an effort to treat his “perversion.” All of this has created a man who is now, in his forties, angry, repressed, frustrated, and cruel. But he can also be kind, tender, and even loving, and flashes of this come through, when he lets down the wall he has so carefully built around his feelings. Of all the characters in the book, my heart ached the most for Charles and I wished his life could have been different. He deserved more than he got.

The story is carefully and thoroughly plotted. No loose ends, no characters swooping in from the wings to magically save the day. This is an improvement over Captain’s Surrender (which I enjoyed, but there were a few implausible moments in that book). Likewise, I think Ms. Beecroft’s writing has improved since her first book. She did tell me in an exchange of emails that she didn’t edit Captain’s Surrender as much as she wanted but I contend that it is not just editing differences between the two. In this book, Ms. Beecroft is more skillful in her writing and confident in her ability and it shows. Every word is precisely selected and there for a reason. It is a pleasure to read a book that is so beautifully constructed.

In sum, I highly recommend False Colors. My highest rating is what I call “the incredible sadness”—that feeling that I will never read a book again that is quite this good. Of course, I know I will but in interim I satisfy my longing by re-reading favorite parts and yes, re-reading the book. Which explains why it has taken me two weeks to write this review.  :-)

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Buy from: Amazon, Amazon (Kindle version), Sony Store (Sony ereader)

Review: Eye of the Storm by Lee Rowan

It’s the Winter of 1802 and the long war between England and France has entered a fragile truce. But the lives of Commander William Marshall and Lieutenant David Archer, have become more complicated than ever.

As a Commander, Will is accustomed to making tough decisions. Can he give an order that will surely put his Davy in harm’s way? He almost lost his lover to a bullet once before and he fears losing him now, yet duty calls.

Davy is tormented by doubt. Will walked away before, trying to end their relationship for Davy’s own safety. Can he trust Will again—not only to stay with him, but to believe that their love is worth the risks?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

I had been waiting eagerly for Eye of the Storm to be released on January 1, 2009 and to my great delight, it popped up on the Linden Bay Romance website on that date. Since I have an e-reader I was able to download the book and get right to the important business of reading. If anyone reading this is waffling on getting an e-reader, let me assure you that instant gratification is tremendously rewarding.

To the story: this is the third in the Articles of War series, preceded by Ransom and Winds of Change.

Eye of the Storm picks up immediately where Winds of Change ends: Commander Marshall and Lt. Archer (now David St. John) have just been reunited. An uneasy truce exists between England and France. With the assistance of his relatives, Sir Percy and Baron Guilford, Archer/St. John has become the owner of the merchant vessel Mermaid. They are hoping that Marshall will sign on as its captain. The nature of the work of the Mermaid is vague; it seems that she will be transporting cargo but one suspects that more clandestine activities are in the offing.

The story begins with dinner with Marshall, Archer (St. John) and Sir Percy, which allows for discussion of practical matters and sets the stage for what’s to come. Then we have a joyous reunion between lovers Davy and Will which was certainly needed, since the previous book ended with nothing more than a passionate embrace and a few tears. In a post-coital moment, they have an interesting conversation about what sort of future they might possibly have together, including discussion of Will getting married “for appearances” since that is what may be best for him to advance in rank in His Majesty’s Navy.

Once the groundwork is laid, the story moves ahead briskly. Author Rowan knows how to tell a tale and the plot of this novella is tight and carefully constructed. Even though they are on the ship together – Davy as owner and Will as captain – they do not have much free time, to the dismay of the reader who might be hoping for lots of sex! Rowan stays focused on the narrative and keeps the events realistic to the era. Marshall is a very conscientious captain who does not let his own desires – and the desires of his lover – come before his responsibility to his ship and the men under his command.

Eventually they are separated and this allows for more rumination, especially on Will’s part, about the nature of their love and the potential of their lives together. Will eventually reads some letters that have long gone unread that helps him to understand more fully the relationship that exists between him and Davy. There is also another exchange – very brief, but touching – which helps Will realize that he is attracted to men in general and Davy in particular. It is only a few paragraphs but telling and deftly written.

All of this happens against a background of ships and spies, wondering who’s who and what’s what. Like I said earlier, Rowan knows how to tell a story and her skills in this department seem to get better with each book.

My only complaint – and I had the exact same complaint with Winds of Change – is that things get a little abrupt in the last one-fourth of the book, to the point of it being ragged. There are transitions that just seem too unexpected. A few conversations are so brief that they seem truncated. Characters who seem to be present one minute suddenly disappear. It is frustrating because it wouldn’t have taken much rewriting to fix these points but they are annoying loose ends that should have been corrected – and weren’t.

Even so, Davy and Will are such beguiling characters that I am willing to forgive the author for these small transgressions. Their love is so joyous and real that I enjoy every minute I am able to spend in their company.

As a reader, I am often asked if books in a series should be read in order, or can you start at any point. With Rowan’s books, they definitely should be read chronologically and to assist anyone who may be coming upon the Articles of War series for the first time, here’s the list: Ransom, Winds of Change, Eye of the Storm. There is also a trilogy of short stories called Trilogy 109: Sail Away. These stories include important backstories on many of the characters included in the larger novels. I would particularly recommend reading the Trilogy before reading Eye of the Storm because it has essential information about Baron Guilford that will definitely enhance a reader’s understanding about the events in the present novella.

In sum, I heartily recommend this book and look forward to the next installment, which I understand from the author is due out sometime in late 2009. Sigh…so many months to wait, but something to look forward to!

Author’s website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Insubordination by Alex Beecroft

A nice bonus for you today as Insubordination is a free-read and can be found here at Linden Bay

For the sake of their lives and careers, Josh and Peter agreed to put their need for one another behind them. But then a luxurious and sensual dinner together becomes foreplay, leading Josh to an act of insubordination that Captain Peter Kenyon will never forget

Review by Erastes

The characters have – for reasons that hardly need explaining to any reader of gay historical fiction – decided to cease their affair,  but Josh – beautifully in character – is finding this hard to deal with. So is Peter, but being the more controlled of the two would rather snap in half than admit it as readily as Josh does.  Josh pushes the matter in this wonderful speech

“Despatches from London. Butcher’s bill from the
Seahorse. Sightings of the Avenger and the Cruel Bones.
Papers containing news of the war, and incidentally, Sir, I
still love you. Why not take an evening off from being
respectable? I’m owed a chance to bugger you for a
change, don’t you think?”

If you love UST, or if you don’t quite know what it is, or if you need help writing it – I can do no better for you than to point at Alex’s writing, especially here as the tension she writes is exquisite, almost painful and you find yourself screaming at the page for them to stop bloody fooling themselves and get on with it because you know they want to.

And that’s the point, really. They do want to, but Peter’s infuriating good sense and understandable fear gets in the way.  He feels that he’s dallying with Josh, that he’s risking Josh’s life over something that he can control, can stop, and after all there’s no future in it, he thinks – and it’s Josh who is the key to this, Josh who is the one who needs take the control away from Peter, to show Peter how much it all means and that it’s all worth the risk.

The writing is exquisitely crisp, perfectly in tone and the details of the period, the food, the crystal, the uniforms are all done with the deftness and expertise that you’d expect from Alex if you’ve read her work before. The sex is perfect, never overdone, just enough to leave a warm smile on your face.

If you haven’t read Captain’s Surrender, then I recommend this little freebie because it will convince you that you need to, and if you have, this will not help you, because it will leave you wanting more.

Linden Bay

Review: “Napoleon’s Privates” by Tony Perrottet

NAPOLEON’S PRIVATES
2,500 Years of History Unzipped

by Tony Perrottet
Harper Entertainment, ISBN 978-0-06-125728-5

From the blurb on the author’s website:

What were Casanova’s best pick-up lines?
(They got better as he got older).
Which Italian Renaissance genius “discovered” the clitoris?
(He could have just asked the Venetian nuns).
What was the party etiquette at Caligula’s orgies?
(Holding one’s own could be a stressful business in ancient Rome).
How were impotence sufferers put on trial in medieval France?
(And why this should be a new reality TV show).
What were the kinkiest private clubs of Hogarthian London?
(Austin Powers would have blanched).

And what was the truth about Napoleon’s privates?
(Was it a big baguette or petit éclair? And did size matter to Josephine?)

There are some books you just have to order, even if you fear the worst when it comes to content. I hang my head in shame – when I stumbled over “Napoleon’s Privates” (now please don’t take that literally!) I couldn’t resist. Yes, yes, I know, my mind’s in the gutter at times. But if everything else fails, there’s still eBay, right?

I’m happy to report that I won’t have to deal with eBay. “Napoleon’s Privates” is an amusing collection of the high and mighty’s “raunchy little secrets” all through history. Reading it transported me back to the days when I was a really young teenage girl and read with a friend “Dr. Sommer’s Sex And Relationship Tips” in a teenage magazine. Means: lots of giggling and the occasional “d’oh?”-experience!

Author Tony Perrottet knows how to keep his readers captivated. In the slick tone of a gossip journalist (an almost extinct species capable of forming complete sentences), he shares the tale of the whereabouts of Napoleon’s little emperor with as much wit and glee as the rather mind-boggling “Holy Guide to Coital Positions”. Perrottet completely won me over with his “Impressionist Misery Index”, listing the social backgrounds, personal dramas, career lows and wretched dotages of artists like Monet, Cézanne, Renoir et al just like Marvel Comics would have described the special powers of their super heroes.

Some chapters are almost exclusively of a speculative nature, though – was Abe Lincoln gay or not? – but to his credit, the author points this fact out and notes that it really wasn’t uncommon for men to share a bed back in those days. So “Napoleon’s Privates” is also a journey through the urban legends of the past.

However, all gossip and giggles aside, the misogynistic roots of some anecdotes are pointed out several times. The “Boys Club” could not deal with strong women, the church tried its best to keep them down, and many of the rumours still clinging to great women’s names – Katharina the Great and her “horse lover”, for example (complete rubbish, of course) – have been born out of this attitude. It’s also interesting to see how disparaging rumours about sexual prowess, sexual orientation or even shape of genitals have been used – and are still used! – to impair an enemy’s reputation.

For those interested in the history of sexuality in general, beauty ideals, gay history, gossip and saucy details, this book offers a lot of material to shake your head over. Kinky clubs in 18th century Scotland, proof of (im)potence in front of witnesses and the court, brothels, ancient sex toys, horny popes and knitted condoms, syphilis and why castrati made better lovers – “Napoleon’s Privates” offers all this, and more.

The book consists of stand-alone chapters, so you can easily put it away for a while. I read the whole thing in one go, though, so I can now impress my friends at the next party with my amazing knowledge about Napoleon’s dick and dickery between the sheets. I might even throw in the amazing tale of “The Invention of Smut”, should anybody ask.

Especially you navy folk will be pleased to hear that the Duke of Wellington, if actress “Mademoiselle Georges” (a former mistress of Napoleon) can be believed, “was by far the more vigorous.”

In conclusion:
a) “Napoleon’s Privates” is a book wellworth buying, and
b) people are funnier than anybody.

In case you’re interested: the author’s website.

“Napoleon’s Privates” is available from Amazon UK, Amazon US and as e-book from Harper Collins.

* * *

(c) Emma Collingwood

Review: Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased) by Emma Collingwood

Review by Erastes

HMS Privet has the reputation of being a cursed ship: every first lieutenant serving aboard her dies gruesomely. Lieutenant Daniel Leigh is determined to solve the mystery and volunteers for the place himself, putting his life in desperate danger. Little does he suspect that he will fall in love with the captain, John Meadows, and end up fighting not only for his own life, but for the soul of his lover, too.

Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased) – a Georgian ghost story featuring a cursed ship, a vengeful ghost, a haunted captain and a very daring lieutenant.

This is a really clever little book, and I wish I could have promoted this sooner as it would have made a great stocking filler for Christmas. It’s a tiny thing, no more than a short story at 76 pages, but it’s the sort of thing I’d, for one, like to see more of. It emulates the “Penny Dreadfuls” of a previous age, and the cover is amusingly designed. It even looks like it’s old, with the wrinkles built in.

The story is interesting and flows well, with an exciting finale that I particularly enjoyed. What I was left feeling, however, is that Ms Collingwood had the makings of a full-length novel in these pages and it would have been excellent to have had a much bigger read. I hope that she is intending to write more in this era because this whet my appetite for more please.

I wish, however, that this style had continued into the design of the book itself. I would have liked to have seen a more antiquated font, such as this type used on the author’s shop-site and a more standardised layout. This book is justified on both sides with a gap between each paragraph and that grated on me – it seemed too modern – not even in line with the ways that modern books are laid out. Perhaps it would have been too expensive to typeset in this manner.

That being said, it is well worth any afficianado of gay historical fiction – particularly those of you who love the Age of Sail – getting this as it’s a good story with an interesting, brave (some might say foolish!) protagonist. The illustrations (got to love men in naval uniforms!) are worth the price of the book, just on their own.

Buy from Amazon Germany     Direct from the Author

Review: Captain’s Surrender by Alex Beecroft

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.

Buy Direct from the publisher

 

Review: Winds of Change by Lee Rowan

In 1802, a love worth dying for is more than just a romantic notion. Lieutenants William Marshall and David Archer, of His Majesty’s frigate Calypso, have been lovers for more than a year. Courage, devotion, and extreme discretion have kept them from the hangman’s noose-the price they must pay if their relationship is discovered. The occasional night of passion ashore is all the more precious to them for its rarity. But in the Royal Navy, nothing lasts forever. A transfer to a new ship brings with it a bizarre turn of events: their Captain orders them to behave as though they are involved in an illicit relationship in order to smoke out a suspected traitor, blackmailer, and saboteur.

Winds of Change” is the sequel to Lee Rowan’s “Ransom” and continues the adventures and misadventures of Lts William Marshall and David Archer after their capture and escape in the book of that name. And it’s a very good read.

The two men are transferred to a new ship, together with their captain; a “Trouble ship” where there is unrest and sabotage. A method of smoking out the sabateur is proposed but it is not without a great deal of risk for David and William, and for their growing relationship.

The characters are wonderfully drawn, they would slide into any of the Hornblower novels without even causing the slightest bow wave. William is a career man and his duty is every bit as important to him as it is to Nelson himself. He puts his heart and soul into everything he does, whether it’s managing a 74 gun ship of the line, or loving the love that dare not speak its name. David is my favourite, I have to say, for his innate love of life despite everything he’s been through.

For my money, this book has everything. It’s a wonderful love story, without underplaying the very real danger that homosexuals faced in His Majesty’s Navy in the late 1700′s and early 1800′s. It’s meticulously researched, but Lee writes in a way that doesn’t bore you with facts of the time, she writes simply as if she were writing in that time, and the period detail becomes as unobstruvive as if it were a contemporary novel. It’s a mystery, a thriller and it has lines that made me giggle, parts that made a hard boiled cynic like me cry (twice) and some wonderfully tender sexual moments.

If you found Ransom a little slow, then you’ll be happy with WoC, as it’s faster-paced, tighter and there’s a very real tension throughout.

If I had one tiny quibble, I was dissapointed that the ending of the mystery was done off screen, I was expecting as much adventure in the last part of the book as I’d read in the first part, but in reality, what Lee decides to concentrate on in the final pages doesn’t spoil the story at all.

In the growing genre of homosexual historical fiction, Lee Rowan is at the forefront. She never sacrifices period detail or excellent writing in an attempt to dumb down at any time.

Very highly recommended.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Ransom by Lee Rowan

For a young Englishman in 1796, the Navy is a way to move beyond his humble origins and seek a chance at greatness. Captured by accident when their Captain is abducted, Archer and Marshall become pawns in a renegade pirate’s sadistic game. To protect the man he loves, David Archer compromises himself-trading his honor and his body for Marshall’s safety. When Will learns of his friend’s sacrifice, he also discovers that what he feels for Davy is stronger and deeper than friendship. The first challenge: escape their prison. The second: find a way to preserve their love without losing their lives.

Review by Erastes

I found this book, completely by accident and I was intrigued by the blurb as it was a a Regency Gay Romance, which made me beam, because there are just Not Enough of those, but more excitingly, it’s a nautical tale, set in the same time period as Master and Commander and Hornblower – so if any of you have ever slashed Archie and Horny or Horny and Pellew – you are going to LOVE this. It’s 1799 and not only is homosexuality on land punishable by prison and death – on His Majesty’s Ships the Articles of War give an automatic death penalty for it – and very little proof was needed – if a man of a higher rank gave evidence against one of a lower, that man would hang.

But it’s more than just “oh whoopee another historical homoerotic romance do buy” This is excellently written. It could easily be Forrester on a Slashy day, and I’ll stick my neck out and go further to say that the writing surpasses Forrester. It’s also immaculately (as far as I can see) researched and what brings it alive to me is that the language is in the tone of the TIME.

Nothing jars me more than reading about 21st century men who just happen to find themselves on a 18th century warship.

The sex is beautifully described and perhaps some readers won’t find it as graphic as they’d like, but it is all there, it’s just written so beautifully and so lightly that it’s inferred rather than explicitly shown.

Anyway – HIGHLY recommended especially for all of your who moan that there’s no historical slash out there.

Don’t miss her sequels – Winds of Change and Eye of the Storm.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,982 other followers

%d bloggers like this: