Oct 10 2008
Dear Mrs. Beecroft,
I’m sorry it took me so long to finally read the book you offered to DA way back in….oh dear, was it really February? ::Winces:: Note to self: must forgo sleep in order to read more books. But better late than never.
The way you opened the book was very powerful. It gives us an immediate hit to the gut as well as a good view of one of our heroes, Midshipman Josh Andrews. He’s trapped and horrified and angry all at once as he is forced to face what might happen to him if he doesn’t watch his step. Buggery is specifically forbidden by the Articles of War to which all Navy men are subject as well as unlawful in civilian life. Poor Josh is damned no matter where he is. And if anyone ever catches him out or lures him, as was the case for the poor sod (literally) he watches hung from a yardarm, he’s on his way to a necktie party.
So he can’t move, can’t look away from poor Henderson’s final death kicks because Captain Walker is watching for any signs of sympathy, any indications that his massed ship’s company feels other than satisfaction for the morning’s hanging. And then…and then, Josh falls in lust with none other than the new first lieutenant of the HMS Nimrod whose flashy arrival disrupts Walker’s carefully staged spectacle. Lt. Peter Kenyon will pay for that by God and begins by being stuck in the same small cabin as Josh for the duration of the voyage to Bermuda. It’s a deliberate insult, as any Navy officer knows, but due to the fact that no one can challenge the captain, Peter is forced to bite back his anger.
It was at this point that I expected the novel to become an awakening of eroticism between Josh and Peter as they discover their mutual sexual attraction. Small cabin, two men, m/m plot and we’re off to the races. But it didn’t. That arrives a lot later. Instead you give us great Naval scenes designed to show life at sea during wartime on one of His Majesty’s ships.
It’s a hard life made worse if a captain, like Walker, turns petty tyrant. As Peter explains to one of the passengers, Comptroller Summersgill, even though they might not approve of what a captain is doing, the officers dare not break ranks and defy him. Strict and stern discipline while at sea is a necessity. A little bit early on could save a man’s life under a monster of a captain who really was given the power of life or death over his men by the Admiralty. They’re given the dregs of society as crewmen and if ever those men realized they could take over the ship, God help the officers. I could feel the fear of what might happen, the tension of the officers and Summersgill as they tried to maintain control and head off violence.
But even Walker’s actions began to make sense as we saw the change in him during battle. He’s a man already inclined to control who’s been placed in one of the jobs which allows him to exercise that right with near total impunity. As well, he’s addicted to the adrenaline rush of battle and so will never willingly step down from his position. The battle scenes – especially in Hudson Bay – were terrific. Detailed enough for me to believe you’ve put enormous effort into getting it right without becoming so technical that a layperson can’t understand what’s going on.
Emily Summersgill and her father are both people of sense, intelligence and courage. Thank you for not turning her into a shrew nor he into a bullying tyrant bent on seeing her married to the man of his choice. Both are rewarded in the end: she with marriage to a man she feels more comfortable with and loves and he with seeing his daughter well provided for and with a man he can respect.
I wasn’t sure about where you’d go with Adam. He’s so nice at first then has chances to become the dreaded Spurned Lover who seeks revenge. You gently guided him away from that and showed he was just a man in love who dreads seeing the woman of his dreams lost to another he knows is not truly worthy of her.
Josh’s scenes with Onichi and Giniw are such a revelation for him. There are people in the world who not only don’t condemn him for what he is but who see in him something to admire and celebrate. I’ve often thought this was one of the better aspects of most Indian tribes and can see this as the catalyst for Josh to finally reveal his true feelings and desires and hopes to Peter. But how did Josh get back from Canada to Bermuda?
At first I thought Peter’s easy acceptance of Josh’s true sexuality and entry into same was too fast and without much thought as to the possible consequences and ramifications. After all, this is a time when homosexuality was a death sentence which would surely be something Peter, as a long time Naval Officer, would know. And then there was the stuff about how Peter compared his experience with women to his physical encounters with Josh. Peter is astonished and thrilled to be in a relationship in which his partner takes the lead and embraces what they’re doing.
Up to now, his only sexual encounters have been with -as best I can interpret what you’ve written – nice, society misses who weren’t supposed to either know about sex or be experienced about it. And I’m not sure if he actually had physical intercourse with any of them or if it was just kissing or heavy petting. But you didn’t have him differentiate at this point whether or not it would have made a difference to him if a sexually experienced woman basically tossed him on a bed and had her way with him or if it was because it was a man doing this that turned him on. Did Peter ever have any thoughts or instances in his past when he contemplated sex with a man? If so, I missed them.
Peter does reflect on how society will view what he and Josh do. He sees the witch hunts against the local molly house on the island. He knows that a life with Josh won’t be easy. He does take time before he makes the final commitment and couched his reflection in terms of the honor he holds dear as a gentleman and the mores of the day. And so, do I totally buy into the fact that Peter is Gay? Not quite yet.
According to TeddyPig, if a man hasn’t gotten emotional fullfillment from his relationships with women but has with men, the whole “Straight Man discovering he’s Gay” arc works better for him. When Peter has a chance to court Emily, he discovers that though he likes her and admires her, there’s no emotional spark for him unlike how he increasingly feels about Josh. When he thinks Josh is dead, he’s devastated. Despite all the obstacles in their way, he knowingly chooses a long term committment to Josh. This helps sway me towards believing Peter is truly homosexually oriented instead of just being willing to get laid when the chance is there.
While you don’t entirely close the bedroom door, the book is noticeably subdued in terms of the sexual relationship between the two men. And to be honest, this is what makes the book work better for me. I don’t care for erotica as I’ve found I don’t get the emotional payoff I find in a romance novel. To me this book is more of a historical Gay romance instead of historical Gay erotica.
Throughout the book, I was delighted by your turns of phrase. It’s not just an ocean but a “sea, stretching out like a great sheet of mercury beneath an elegant curve of moon.” Josh proposes to Peter in a garden “where starlight slipped in bluish dapples through the white stars of jasmine.”
I’m not sure how these two are going to be able to make their long term relationship work as both appear to be determined to stay in the Naval service plus they’ll have to deal with the rumors started by Walker but they appear to be beginning it with their eyes open. I’m still not convinced that Peter’s Gay as a Gay man would see Gay or Gay as a heterosexual woman writing a Gay man would see Gay, but I enjoyed the writing, the setting and the characters you created. B+
PS. Jane would approve of your feebie.