April 1st, 2013


Captain's Surrender, by Alex Beecroft

The poly-romance story I've been writing lately includes a prominent male/male relationship. As it happens, this is a genre I've never actually read*, although I've written scenes in it before. I am not really determined to find a poly-romance -- I am sure they exist, but it's so niche that I don't know that I would enjoy anything I found. But I figured I could at least read some m/m romance.

I remembered that haikujaguar had recommended some Age-of-Sail m/m romance a while back, and the magic of LJ tags let me find the review entry again, so I decided last night to pick up this one.

I was a little hesitant to start it, because let me just begin with what a horrible, horrible time-and-place the British Navy in the late 18th century was for two men to fall in love. This is a time period when sodomy was a hanging offense, and ships offered zero privacy. Welcome to Crapsack Universe, please do not enjoy your stay. But I was in the mood for reading a romance and annoyed trying to craft the one I've been writing, so I started it this morning anyway.

And omigosh it has some wonderful romance. Chapter eleven! ♥ Incredibly sweet.

After twelve Aubrey/Maturin books, the naval scenes in Captain's Surrender felt plausible but lightweight by comparison. Beecroft does convey the sense of the time and period well -- I never got the feeling she glossed over things because she didn't know them. More a sense that the book was written for romance readers rather than to appeal to Age-of-Sail buffs, and accordingly Beecroft explained more when she did put in details, and left out a lot. Some things felt a little off, history-wise: for instance, when the characters in Captain's Surrender talk about prizes, they invariably mean pirates and arms-smugglers. In the Aubrey/Maturin books, the vast majority of prizes are the merchant ships of enemy nations. This struck me as an effort to make the characters appeal more to modern sensibilities, and rubbed me the wrong way. Other things are horrifyingly right -- the impact a tyrannical captain can have on a ship, for example.

At points, events felt seriously contrived in the name of creating dramatic tension, which also annoyed me. And as haikujaguar pointed out in her review, the typical romance-novel happy ending (which the book does provide) does not feel convincing in the setting. I don't know if it "needs a sequel" so much as I am still worried for these poor characters trapped in their crapsack universe.

But overall, I found the story compelling, the protagonists likable if occasionally bastards, and the romantic sequences heart-melting. I had a great time with this book, and if there'd been fewer contrivances in the events leading up to the ending, I would give it a 9. As it is, more of an 8. If you like romance (and do not object to it being m/m), a delightful read. If you want historical Age of Sail fiction -- well, you really should read the Aubrey/Maturin books -- but this was surprisingly good on the historical fiction count too. Far better than the typical Regency romance in terms of grounding the characters in a realistic depiction of the period. There is some semi-explicit erotica (generally in the romance-novel tradition of avoiding explicit language) and swearing, but not a great deal.

* I lie! I lie like a rug. How could I forget The Heritage of Hastur and chapter twenty-three, which I read approximately two thousand times as a kid? Not technically a romance, I suppose, but I loved it for the romance. But I actually had forgotten about it until I started writing this review. There may've been some other m/m romance subplots in books I read a a kid.