Running Press, $12.95, ISBN 978-0-7624-3658-3
Historical Romance, 2009
I find it strange that Alex Beecroft’s False Colors, released at the same time as Erastes’s Transgressions as part of the publisher’s debut foray into the world of gay romances, has a very similar story structure. The characters meet, and then we have a long separation all the way to close to the ending, a reunion, the end. I wonder if the similarity is due to the publisher requesting specifically for such story lines. Even the characters in both books are essentially the same people. At any rate, readers, do take note of this: False Colors is a better historical fiction with some romantic sodomy than it is a romance story.
This one is a military tale spanning from some time in 1762 to the end of 1763. John Cavendish is from a religious background, so repressed is he that he has no idea that he likes boys. It’s like how heroines in romance novels tend not to notice that boys are cute until they meet the hero that sets their libido on fire for the first time. John is given command of a captured French ship, renamed HMS Meteor, but his pleasure is short lived when he realizes that his first order is pretty much a suicide mission. The HMS Meteor will take on the Barbary Corsairs along the Bay of Biscay. The appearance of an incorrigible lieutenant, Aelfstan “Alfie” Donwell, who seems allergic to common sense provides a distraction that poor John doesn’t need.
That’s just the event that kicks off this story of separations, closet doors struggling to open, and military shenanigans. One thing I have to say: the descriptions of maritime activities here, from battles to daily activities, are very vividly detailed. So well realized is the setting that I feel as if I’m transported right into the world where the story is set in. On the whole, this story has a very nice balance of action-paced scenes and quieter scenes of character contemplation and introspection. False Colors is a very readable book in this manner.
The character of John Cavendish also makes this story a very readable one. Ms Beecroft does an excellent job in letting me glimpse into the head of this man. He’s a dependable good man although he has his share of insecurities, confusion, and various human weaknesses. His character development is a very compelling one to follow due to how real Ms Beecroft makes his emotions out to be. In this respect, False Colors offers good character study in one of its lead characters.
The romance, however, leaves me wanting more. A problem here is the character of Alfie. He lacks common sense, which is annoying enough, but his love for John comes off like a static puppy love that never grows beyond the superficial in this story. I’ve said before in reviews of other gay romances that one of my issues with many of such stories is that the love of two men is frequently portrayed as perfect as it is from first sight and the rest of the story deals with external conflicts being thrown their way to test this love. Here, Ms Beecroft uses that very concept here. Therefore, the love between the two men is too underdeveloped for my liking, and the long separation in this story doesn’t allow the two characters to fully know each other. I prefer stories where the romance develops and matures throughout the story as the characters interact with each other more. The whole “our love is perfect from the get go and it will never have to change!” thing feels way too much like something from a starry-eyed teenage girl’s fantasy for my liking.
Compared to the tremendous self-discovery and character growth John has undergone in this story, his superficial love for Alfie can be quite nauseating in how shallow it is. Alfie is pretty, sure, but he’s such a typical high maintenance diva, so self absorbed that he actually likes being in battle with the enemies in one scene because John is next to him. Ugh. Throughout the story, Alfie always come off as more immature and lacking in many ways compared to John, and as a result, the romance doesn’t resonate with me.
False Colors is a well-written story that loses much of its momentum when the story begins rushing forward in time in its last third or so. Months can pass between two chapters, and the transition between chapters is too choppy and abrupt for my liking. It also suffers from the same flaw as Transgressions: a reunion between the two main characters that feel forced and false, offering unrealistically optimistic happy endings when the characters are still in conflict just a few pages before that. The fact that this one concludes with a cheesy love scene where we have Alfie crying, “You’ll understand… when you do it. John, I want you… in me. I want… please!” has me cringing. Come on, Ms Beecroft, these are seamen we are talking about. How about some sexy crude vulgarities?
Seriously, this one ends on such a cheesy note, I have to wonder how much of this happy ending is an obligatory concession to romance readers who would otherwise be raving mad if the characters go separate ways. I feel that, like Transgressions, False Colors would have been a stronger book if the more developed main character part ways with the other fellow by the end of the story, walking into the sunset as a wiser fellow after undergoing such a tempestuous journey of self-discovery.
Anyway, I find False Colors a pretty good read at the end of the day, but I also have to point out that the trope-heavy and unimaginative romance between the main characters is actually the least interesting aspect of the story to me. Don’t read this for the romance, read it for the vicarious journey to the high seas or the pleasure of following the turbulent journey of self-discovery of a good but conflicted man instead.