Taking off his hat, he turned to face his crew, noting the slack, bruised faces of men with scurvy, the nose-less, crusted features of those whom pox was slowly consuming from within. The Master was barely being held up by his mate, his linen drabbed with wine-stains. The single midshipman picked his nose as he slouched by his division, then spat over the side. Only the new lieutenant stood straight and alert, in newly laundered dress uniform, his wig powdered, his buttons gleaming and his pale brows arched a little in amusement as he watched John struggle with hat and paper in the increasing wind.
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Buy This Book I thought it might be a mistake reading False Colors right after Transgressions, but despite similarities, they were quite different. However, as in Transgressions, history is shown with all its violence and disease, so the squeamish might want to look away. Also, the heroes spend a lot of time separated, and once they meet again, the real world intervenes in their relationship. They do become friends, and their friendship is tempered by a dangerous rescue and by fierce battles at sea.
Each man, in turn, must save the other and help nurse the other back to health. Alfie grows more attracted to John with every day, knowing this is risky because the British Navy hangs men for sodomy. Duty separates both men for a long time. Alfie acts on his old feelings for Farrant, finding respite in his arms.
Meanwhile, John finds himself betrayed by the British Navy for doing his duties too well for political expedience in Algiers. This gives him time to ponder what happened, and he starts to doubt his initial reaction, starts to ponder his beliefs. John eventually gets another position on a ship, although not a command, and life goes on for both men.
Little do they know that they are bound to meet again. Once again, one man must be rescued, and another battle at sea must be fought. However, a tragic death at sea changes everything yet again, leading to a court martial, and to another crisis between the two men. Will the two ever repair their friendship? Will they ever risk their lives to go on to become more than just friends? Or will the past doom their relationship? John was raised by a Quaker mother and a dissolute father, so he is straight-laced, but at the same time, he senses that he is missing something of the world.
His duty wars with his feelings. John begins to wonder if he has become a fanatic and if, by doing so, he has wronged his beliefs. But will understanding come too late? Later, he experiments with his budding sexuality when he learns of a underground club that caters to homosexual men, but while he finds passions he never knew he could feel, that encounter frightens him away. His feelings for Farrant have left his life in a turmoil more than once.
His feelings for John survive the disaster of his initial revelation, as well as the repeated separations. But those feelings might not survive when Alfie thinks John abandoned him at the worst possible time. This perceived betrayal verges on a big misunderstanding, and I was a little disappointed that it took a classic intervention by a third party to reveal the truth.
Because of his position in society, he is given more leeway. Yet at the same time, he is constricted by society; at any time, his father, a powerful duke, could revoke his protection. Older than the two heroes, he is outspoken, cynical, often cruel, and a tragic yet often sympathetic character. The other secondary characters come to life as well, even those who spend only a little time on the page. In his own single-minded way, he is as frightening as the brutal pirates.
This is a book filled with people rather than characters. It takes a long time before he can come to terms with it. That makes the eventual consummation so much sweeter. Like Transgressions, False Colors lives and breathes history. At the same time, beyond the blood, there are lots of great little details that bring the ships to life. As a lover of classical music, I was also pleasantly surprised when John joined Alfie in song and turned out to be a counter-tenor, not something I ever expected from a romance hero.
When two men are bound in both love and conflict, the stories can go different ways. In some stories, the men come together in violence. Also, while John and Alfie do spend much of the time apart, they are often forced to work together, and their conflicts help move the story forward, being as much a part of the book as the slavers and pirates.
The last two books I have reviewed show how different two books can be even when they are in the same subgenre. While Transgressions emphasized the story of one of the heroes over the other, False Colors gave both men equal time. This makes it feel somewhat more like a historical romance, but the separations set it apart from most romances published today.
Buy False Colors by Alex Beecroft:.
Are they always this good? Probably not, darn it. There are gritty period details aplenty, along with a gloomy and deadly pall that hangs over men who dared to love the wrong gender. John Cavendish is the son of a carousing dad and a strict Quaker woman. He goes about restoring his standing in the priggish and upright way he only knows, but with the added irritation of the impulsive and handsome Alfie under his skin. Alfie has prodded into the light impulses within John that he has striven for years to smother, and John seemed like "the one" to Alfie, who is tired of settling for demeaning substitutes for the love he longs for.
Books by Alex Beecroft