Title: By Honor Betrayed
Author: Alex Beecroft
Publisher: Carina Press
Buy Link: Amazon.com Genre: Historical (Age of Sail)
Length: Novella (105 pages/25k words)
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: A wonderful historical drama with some excitement toward the end that shows us why Alex Beecroft is master of what she does.
Lieutenant Conrad Herriot and Seaman Tom Cotton have been master and servant for over a decade, and friends for almost as long. When Tom is injured during a skirmish, Conrad forgets himself and rushes to Tom’s side, arousing suspicion about the true nature of their relationship.
All Tom wants is the chance to consummate their love and embark on a new life together, outside the law that condemns them. Yet he fears Conrad won’t risk his career and his honor to become Tom’s lover.
Conrad believes his lust for Tom will damn his soul. There’s also their difference in class—a gentleman doesn’t socialize with a common tar. As Conrad struggles to refute the gossip on the ship, he must decide whether to commit the crime the crew’s already convicted them of, or part from Tom for good to save both their necks….
Alex Beecroft is a master at writing historical fiction and I was not disappointed at all in this latest novella. Set in 1750 (note the blurb is wrong), it is the adventurous tale of Royal Navy officer Conrad and his longtime manservant Tom who have spent a decade dancing around each other from afar and, after a series of events, decide to take the plunge. Being the age the story is set in, this is a problem as death awaits them if they are discovered — or if it is even suspected — and they must deal with the consequences. Add in Conrad’s God-fearing belief system and internal struggles aplenty and, well, it just ain’t easy.
I am far from an expert, but I am always blown away with what seems to be very authentic, realistic detail to the time from this author. In fact, it seems so true that I fear that some readers will be put off or bored with the detail. Not me — I love it, but then I am a fan of historicals. On the sea, you feel as if you are on the ship with its constantly leaking planks; the clothing worn on board so sodden it’s to the point of ruin; the endless, tiring, blood-letting work; the captain’s quarters that are so far superior to the rest of the ship’s areas; the (stomach)rolling of the ocean; hygiene that is lacking from months without bathing properly or, well, even good hygiene, period. On the land, the details of the port towns, inns and pubs, and the celebratory feeling of an execution day vie for attention as well.
As with many period pieces, there is also a certain level of angst that one cannot avoid. When the punishment for love between two men is hanging and acting upon those feelings is sin of the worst kind, the story cannot help but become weighed down with it at times. But it is a delicious angst and adds well to the overall setting. Twenty-three-year-old educated and responsible Conrad in particular is torn between longtime lust and propriety, longing and guilt, desire and wanting to make sure it is what Tom wants as well. Much of the first third of the book is the back and forth of Conrad’s internal struggles on the subject of Tom, what makes a man and an officer, and whether or not he should act upon his desire:
He did not have to choose between honour and reputation, duty and truth, friendship and society, salvation and damnation. He had only to ask himself whether he would rather go to hell with Tom or to heaven without him. The answer to that one was easy.
From there it picks up in pace and action, with little twists and turns that made me happy.
When we meet our heroes, they have been friends and shipmates for a decade, having met when Conrad was awarded his midshipmanship at aged thirteen. There is obvious affection, loyalty, respect and comfort between the officer and servant, but because we spent all of our time in Conrad’s head, I felt like I would have liked to have gotten to know Tom a bit better. Regardless, we are treated to multi-faceted emotions: desire, shame, guilt, joy, acceptance, relief, humiliation, fear, determination; disgust and distain from some, tolerance and welcome from others.
While it didn’t feel rushed, it did feel that there was more to the story than what was provided, especially toward the end, and I wonder if there isn’t a sequel in order. It’s always a sign of a good, short book when I am left wanting more.
Lastly, I have two questions for Carina Press, which has a reputation of putting out top-notch works in the genre: first, as mentioned before, why is the date in the blurb wrong, and second, what’s up with “Americanizing” the word “honor” in the title, yet allowing for the more accurate spelling within the text? I think you did your audience a disservice.
If you are looking for a lovely historical from a talented author, look no further than By Honor Betrayed.