FALSE COLORS: deceptive statements or actions. Running a particular flag specifically to lure another vessel close enough to be captured. [Late 1600s]

"Stop chasing love. Love is not for men like us. We share a deviancy we must pay for with lives of exemplary duty...You will get yourself hanged if you think otherwise."

This is the advice Charles Farrant, Captain Lord Lisburn of His Majesty's Navy, gives his young Lieutenant after he seduces him, but Aelstan Donwell wants true love--a secure little cottage, a person to come home to when his ship docks--he just wants that person to be a man, and in a time when even to consider such a thing was a capitol offense, is willing to risk career, reputation, and life to find him.

False Colors
begins in 1762, and covers the era when the sun refused to set on the British Empire. Straight-laced Quaker John Cavendish is given the captaincy of the HMS Meteor, and told in no uncertain terms to launch a suicide run against the pirates of the Barbary Coast. Before the battle, however, John, an aspiring naval officer, clashes with Lt. Donwell, whose attitude teeters on the edge of insubordination. Though the mission succeeds, Alfie is captured and consigned to the slave pens, and it is up to John and his men to rescue the beaten, wounded officer.

Later, when John is wounded in a battle against the French, Alfie becomes his commanding officer's nurse, and a friendship grows between the two men, born of their brushes with death as well as their love of music and literature, a friendship that has more importance at this point for one than the other. Only after John has recovered, does Alfie dare broach the way he feels, only to have the deeply-religious young Quaker violently reject him. Fearing recriminations, Alfie signs on to the HMS Britannia, and comes face-to-face with the only other man he might ever love, Charles Farrant, for whom he had a crush when he was an impressionable 13-year-old cabin boy. At that time, Farrant laughed at his hero worship, now he sees the adult Alfie in a different light and sweeps the young officer into an affair that could cost both their lives.

Due to the Admiralty's duplicity, John loses both ship and crew, so he has plenty of time to consider the implications of Alfie's friendship, and to realize with horror that his rigid religious convictions are beginning to give way to questions he once might never have considered.

When Farrant and his crew are ordered to rescue British sailors attacked by pirates off the coast of Venezuela, they arrive too late, finding only one survivor--Lieutenant Cavendish. Upon seeing Alfie again, John senses the relationship between him and Farrant and understands that with one word he can cause the death of the man who saved his life. When Farrant dies of wounds received in the rescue, Alfie is accused by someone else, and finds himself at a court martial with the outcome of death by hanging a foregone conclusion. Desperately, John goes behind the scenes to buy off witnesses, and beg the accuser to retract his statement, and eventually, because he won't abandon the man he continues to call friend, he loses an appointment to his own ship. Through John's machinations, Alfie is released, never learning the sacrifices his friend made or of the soul-searching he is going through concerning the emotions he now experiences. Alfie signs with the HMS Albion, sent to explore the Arctic. When the first officer dies of yellow fever, John is assigned to the same ship--and now the two find themselves landlocked off frozen Baffin Bay, confronting each other and their fears.

Being a total landlubber, I don't know a mainsail from a bosun but that didn't stop me from enjoying the vivid, frightening descriptions of the sea battles or the lifestyles of the British in Jamaica and Gibraltar. The bleak desolation of the Albion's being stranded in frozen waters after striking an iceberg made me wonder: How did these men manage to survive without computers and other modern equipment on their ships? Surely anyone signing on to such a vessel, whether officer or crew, had to have an inordinate amount of courage to even attempt such voyages! Another thing that surprised me was that there were generally women onboard (and not for the reasons you'd think)--laundresses and cooks, ship's-doctor's wife, sometimes even the captain's family. You have to admire anyone who'd dare choose such a life, much less make a career of it, no matter how long they survived--and survival appeared to be simply a matter of luck.

The main characters in this story are such men...Alfie, seeking permanent love, Farrant taking medications to help him stave off his vice and resenting the demands made on his personal life in spite of the fact that he's as brave as the next man when it comes to his loyalty to the Crown, and John, questioning whether his lifelong love of God, his sense of duty, and his chastity are a sham as he experiences an unexpected attraction to another man. They are brave men with honor and courage, duty-bound while flying their false colors in the face of public morality, not a limp wrist or a mincing step in the lot. More is made of their characters than anything else; there are only three truly sexual scenes in the book, and the first doesn't occur until a third of the way into the story. Each incident is very brief, concentrating more on the participants' emotions and thoughts than the physical elements.

After reading False Colors, I only questioned one aspect of the story. Would a chaste man who'd been raised a Quaker, when faced with another man declaring his love, begin to assume that he, too, was of the same cut? If Alfie had never come along, would John ever have set foot on the path from which his friend beckoned?

Come to think of it, didn't Wade Conyers pose that same question in my own novel, Jericho Road? He didn't find an answer, either!

Since this is a love story, there's a Happy Ending but one wonders how long it will last.

"Is it worth death?" Alfie asks. "What we've done so far only earns us the pillory. I could be satisfied with no more than that forever, couldn't you? Why run the risk?"

Alfie and John won't have the little cottage but they will have each other, remaining in their chosen service, flying their false colors, and continually running the risk of discovery...but they'll be together while they do it, and I guess, in the long run, that's all anyone can ask: to be with the one you love through it all, no matter how short that time is.

I don't generally read m/m romances but the cover for this book and Alex Beecroft's trailer made me decide to take a chance.

False Colors by Alex Beecroft is available in paperback from Running Press. It is also listed at www.amazon.com.


5 comments

  1. Mary Ricksen // May 10, 2009 at 1:20 PM  

    Interesting post Toni. There are books for everyone, and every taste. And some of them are written very well. From what I hear the market for this type of book is growing leaps and bounds.
    I have to admit that I probably wouldn't read this book. But I have a healthy respect for any author who can evoke such emotion in their story.

  2. Scarlet Pumpernickel // May 10, 2009 at 4:16 PM  

    Well, I've always said I'd read anything, including the cereal box! But, this makes me think that just might not be true. Guess I am old fashioned after all. My time is very limited. I work full time, teach an extra class, have special ed paperwork out the waaazoo, a family that demands a small portion of my time, a granddaughter that demands a lot of time (we baked cakes in the easy bake oven yesterday!) and try to write. That having been said, I'm sorry to say, I can't spare time to read a book that is not quite my cup of tea, even if it is well written!

    Scarlet

  3. Edie // May 10, 2009 at 5:35 PM  

    I agree with Mary. I've heard there's a big M/M market. I'm glad you enjoyed this book, though like Mary and Scarlet, I won't be reading it either.

  4. Mary Marvella // May 10, 2009 at 6:20 PM  

    About cups of tea and reading preferences. I'd probably read an historical set in that time period. I wouldn't care for battles, though and I'd only read this book if I learned the men were in love well into the book. I've read and loved books of friendship/admiration/caring/ sacrifice that bordered on love, even brotherly love of one man for another but it wasn't blatantly sexual.

    Good Review, though.

  5. Nightingale // May 10, 2009 at 9:52 PM  

    You posed an interesting question that many of us would like answered? If that diversion hadn't crossed our path....enjoyed the post, Toni.