Gerry B's Book Reviews

Captain’s Surrender – Alex Beecroft

Publisher: Linden Bay Romance 

Five Stars

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. 

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 A superb read, authentic to history, and a touching romance 

Review by Gerry Burnie 

“Captain’s Surrender” by Alex Beecroft (Linden Bay Romance, 2008) is a swashbuckling tale with real meat on its bones. Set in the late eighteenth century, mostly aboard British Royal Navy vessels, this tale bounds over the imaginary mane like an elegant clipper ship in full sail. On the one hand there is the powdered wigs and spit-and-polish of the officers, and on the other the lowly ‘tars’ who carry out their imperious commands; never the twain to meet … except. It is also set at a time when sodomy was considered the vilest crime on the books, and subject to an ignominious death if convicted of it. 

The action is equally fast-paced, including a near mutiny; bloody engagements with privateers; and a skirmish with an imperial, French invasion force on the icy waters of Hudson Bay. There is also a duel to the death for good measure. 

At the same time a touching m/m love story unfolds that is as tender as the non-stop action is rollicking. Joshua Andrews is a young midshipman (apprentice officer) with a dark secret that has indirectly caused the death of a friend and sometimes lover—hanged from the yardarm; therefore, he has developed a complex loathing for what resides within him. Sensing something like this, the Draconian captain has singled him out to be the next “catamite” to swing from the topsail in his crazed, sadistic campaign to restore ‘God’s order to things’—according to the said captain, of course. 

Enter First-Lieutenant (later Captain) Peter Kenyon, a highly principled Adonis whose own order of things begins to falter when he confronts Andrews’ boyish, Irish charms. Still, Kenyon finds an acceptable compromise in lust with Joshua while keeping a weather-eye on Miss Emily Jones, the ward of Mr. Summersgill, comptroller of the Island of Bermuda, and a much safer harbour. 

Albeit, compromises often catch the practitioner uncomfortably in the middle, and Miss Jones turns out to be very much her own gal, not to be taken for granted, while Josh becomes more desirable but elusive. Still, the final resolution is not revealed until the last page of the last chapter. Brava! 

Interestingly, in resolving all this, the biblical assurance that mankind is created in God’s image, and is therefore fundamentally good, is argued. In support of this philosophy the idea of two-spirit culture is introduced; whereby it is believed that mixed-gender individuals (i.e., male-female, female-male) were endowed with special powers, and were considered a blessing from the Great Spirit. 

Two spirits is a theme that is entering into the mainstream of GLBT literature, i.e. “Two Spirits: A life among the Navajo,” (Walter L. Williams), and “The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon” (Tom Spanbauer), but it is also one that is fraught with the complexities of various Native cultures, languages, and geographic territories. 

For example: Andrews is supposedly rescued by “red Indians” somewhere in the vicinity of Hudson Bay, and these Indians undertake to teach him the ways of “agokwa” (meaning “genitaled-women,” or mixed-gender). It is an ingenious way of weaving this message into the fabric of the story, but … the Indians in the Hudson Bay region would have almost certainly been either Inuit, or Cree—not “Anishinabe,” which is not a specific tribe, per se. Moreover, linguistically speaking “agokwa” is an Ojibwa term, not Cree or Inuit. The equivalent Cree term is, “ayekkwe,” “a’yahkwew.” It is a truly brave soul, therefore, who navigates these waters without a reliable map. 

I hasten to add, however, that this purist perspective in no way detracts from a superb read, or the meticulous research that has gone into making this a most convincing look at 18th-century naval practices, and sailing ships in general; thus fulfilling the best in historical fiction—to educate while entertaining.

January 25, 2010 Posted by | Gay historical fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Frost Fair – “Erastes”

Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing 

Five stars

In 1814, the River Thames froze solid in one of the coldest winters on record; tradesmen and society all flocked to the Frost Fair – the last ever to be held on the ice. Against this chilly backdrop, the printer, engraver and fiercely independent Gideon Frost struggles; not only to keep his business afloat, selling his body to men when he must, but also to hide his growing attraction to a wealthy customer: the gentleman Joshua Redfern. Redfern is a man out of Gideon’s class and very much out of his reach. When disaster strikes, Gideon is forced to make a decision which will affect his future: will he choose love, or independence? Frost Fair evokes a bitterly cold London winter as Gideon tries to find the heat of love in his heart and his life. Written by Erastes, author of the widely acclaimed “Standish” and “Trangressions”, the latter the first in a new line of m/m historical romances published by Running Press.

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A definite read for those who enjoy well researched, and well-written historical fiction, romance and a gay perspective. 

Review by Gerry Burnie 

“Frost Fair” by noted author ‘Erastes’ (Cheyenne Publishing, 2009) is a love story set against the backdrop of Dickensian London and the frozen Thames River, in 1814. This intriguing setting includes a carnival on ice, described by diarist John Evelyn as a “bacchanalian triumph,” thus completing the atmosphere for a superb, period romance. Moreover, Erastes populates this ‘unique happening’ with a fascinating array of characters: a handsome, honest tradesman; a kindly and loving patron; and a glib, wealthy cad. 

Fiercely Independent tradesman, Gideon Frost, is a talented lithographer and printer struggling to make ends meet (no pun intended), even if this means occasionally selling his body in the courtyard of the venerable old St. Paul’s Cathedral—an interesting and historically accurate juxtaposition—and the equally intriguing street called “Lad Lane.” Beset by bill collectors, Gideon receives a lucrative commission from a wealthy gentleman-of-leisure, Joshua Redfern, who is secretly enamoured by this beautiful, young artisan. Unknown to Redfern, Gideon is equally smitten by him as well. Meanwhile, as a result of a “Little Ice Age” (c. 1770-1800), the Thames River froze solid to the delight of tradesmen eager to make a pound-or-two—Gideon included. It also attracted the curious of all classes, including one, Finbarr Thouless. 

Now, one of the solid pluses of this novela is the well-developed cast of characters, and Finbarr Thouless is no exception. Delightfully ‘slithery,’ he is portrayed as a two-faced, self-centred, foppish cad with a vitriolic vengeful streak. Moreover, given the fact that he exercises considerable sway over Redfern, it does not bode well for him and Gideon. I hasten to add that there is nothing formulaic about this story, for it offers several twists right up to the ending; which is both surprising and gratifying at the same time. That, however, is for the reader to discover for him or herself. 

Of particular interest to me, as a writer of historical fiction, is the authentic depiction of the ‘frost fair.’  This rare occurrence first came to my knowledge through Helen Humphries (“Frozen Thames”), who dramatized this phenomenon with colourful vignettes—including accounts of birds falling from the air cocooned in a coating of ice. Therefore, from my point of view a bit more descriptive elaboration would not have gone amiss. However, the story does move along delightfully with no unnecessary dawdling, whatsoever. 

Not to be overlooked, either, is the stunning front cover art by Alex Beecroft—herself ‘no slouch’ as a writer. Coincidentally, my next scheduled review will focus on her novel “Captain’s Surrender.” 

“Frost Fair” is a definite read for those who enjoy well researched, and well-written historical fiction, romance and a gay perspective.

January 25, 2010 Posted by | Gay historical fiction | Leave a comment

   

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