From Riptide Publishing:
Blessed Isle by Alex Beecroft
1790 British Age of Sail
For Captain Harry Thompson, the command of the prison transport ship HMS Banshee is his opportunity to prove his worth, working-class origins be damned. But his criminal attraction to his upper-crust First Lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, threatens to overturn all he’s ever worked for.
Lust quickly proves to be the least of his problems, however. The deadly combination of typhus, rioting convicts, and a monstrous storm destroys his prospects . . . and shipwrecks him and Garnet on their own private island. After months of solitary paradise, the journey back to civilization—surviving mutineers, exposure, and desertion—is the ultimate test of their feelings for each other.
These two very different men each record their story for an unfathomable future in which the tale of their love—a love punishable by death in their own time—can finally be told. Today, dear reader, it is at last safe for you to hear it all.
I finished Alex Beecroft’s Blessed Isle (set in 1790, the British Age of Sail) convinced that she is some kind of sea witch, who had kept me in thrall from the first word onward. Although hers is the first story chronologically in the book, I’ve saved it till last because, notwithstanding the uniformly excellent work from the other contributors, I personally feel this one is the jewel in a very splendid crown.
From Vulpes Libris
There’s something about the way Beecroft writes that draws you instantly into the centre of the frame and is at the same time very seductive. Neither does it let you go. Naturally, Beecroft’s descriptions of life at sea, the battles and the mutiny are all magnificent; with her, that really goes without saying.
From Dear Author
I don’t know what it is about Beecroft’s writing that ravishes me so. Maybe it’s that her prose is like Keats’ poetry to me: redolent with scent, aching with color, and beautiful with taste and sound. Maybe it’s how she scours me inside with the deeply-felt emotions of her characters. But this story manages to do in 58 pages what False Colors did to me in more than 300.
it’s high praise indeed that the four stories in Hidden Conflict work so well…. in all this is a very satisfying, recommended collection.
I’m slightly confused, since people on Twitter seem to be saying that Blessed Isle is out already. I thought it came out on the 31st. However, what I’m not confused about is that I’m doing a blog tour to launch the book, and that starts tomorrow:
Stops for this tour:
Blessed Isle Excerpt
You cannot guess how I am laughing in my heart. Well, why should you? I am dead and dust, and all you see is the change of writing from Harry’s crabbed scrawl to my elegant hand. There will be fewer ink splots in this portion, I promise you.
Every night it is the same! We tryst with great mutual pleasure, and I, sated, fall asleep, only to be awoken in the grey of dawn by a flutter of curtains, a cold wind and the sound of his snoring. Yet again, he’s slumped over the desk, tallow from the candle overflowing the tin saucer in which it stands and greasing his head and elbow. His fingers are in the ink. I have become quite the expert at hauling him from chair to bed and tucking him in without waking him.
Then I sit, and read what he has been saying, and chuckle to myself. He’s so earnest! So pedantic. So convoluted in his meaning and expression! I love him for it, but still I laugh.
Look here where he has said ‘I don’t remember what it was he was singing.’ Is that not shocking? It reminds me of my father, trying to recount his own courtship over the dinner table. “Your mother was the most radiant creature I have ever seen,” he would say, “in a blue satin dress that matched her eyes…”
“Darling, it was teal,” my mother would reply. “And silk. I can’t believe you can’t even remember my dress. Thank God one of us was paying attention!”
And they would bicker for the rest of the afternoon, both of them with the same smug smile, taking great pleasure from their children’s annoyance.
I feel a little like that now. For the song was Give me but a Friend and a Glass, Boys, and it was flung out like a net to see what I could catch. In case it is not sung where you are, dear reader, here are the words.
Give me but a friend and a glass, boys,
I’ll show you what t’is to be gay;
I’ll not care a fig for a lass, boys,
Nor love my brisk youth away.
Give me but an honest fellow
That’s pleasantest when he is mellow
We’ll live twenty four hours a day.
You see? I was angling for a fish to bite, so I shall not rebuke him too much for being unaware of the lure, when he took it down whole and was hooked. Evidently he was so dazzled by my numerous and wondrous qualities, that my message utterly passed him by. I find I can forgive him for that.
Do you think I’m a fool? Yet it isn’t folly which makes my words so light, and causes nonsense to spill out of my mouth like the notes of an aria. It’s just that I’m happy. I didn’t believe it possible to be this fortunate in life, being what I am. But I was wrong. Happiness goes to my head like wine. I daresay I am insufferable with it. If that’s the case, I ask you to bear with me. I will become much more miserable presently.
I suppose I should cease this drivel and pick up the account where Harry has left it off. That momentous instant when Cupid’s arrow pierced us both. Straight through one heart into the other, it flew. Metaphorically speaking, you understand, though, at the time, had I looked down and seen blood, I would not have been surprised. The rosy dimpled boy, having done his worst, clapped his bow back between his wings and flew off, chuckling. I was left trying not to smile, trying not to flirt or to stare. Trying not, in short, to get the pair of us hanged.
I had enjoyed the game of it, in the past. I did not enter the Navy because I feared to put myself at risk, and I have always found that life tastes sweetest with a slight spicing of terror. If you go looking for them, there are always men to be found, three weeks out of port, who are willing to take the chance of a quick fumble, a whisper misjudged so that the lips brush skin, the torment of squeezing by, just that little bit too close in a confined space. All this leading to a hasty climax on the cable tier or the spirit room. The gunpowder magazine, that’s my favourite. Biting kisses and the little death in the dark, surrounded by all that slumbering fire.
I’m not a gambling man, despite what my present neighbours might tell you. But I believe the reckless compulsion a man finds at the tables, I found in this. Knowing I could be destroyed at any moment, loving the high stakes and the thrill.
And so I was singing in invitation when the door opened and Harry ducked beneath the sill. He has waxed lyrical over my charms. It is only fair I be allowed to do the same, lest you think that he is all the gainer and I the loser of this transaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was a broader man than I. Strongly built. Traces of the lower deck lingered in that awful jacket he wore and in his hands, made muscular and large by manual work, early in life.
I would not dream of a liaison with a tar. A crewman could not in all conscience say no to me, an officer. I could never be truly certain he was as willing as I, and so I have never dallied outside my rank. But I’ve looked. And I must say Harry’s slight coarseness appeals. He has a pugnacious face, and keeps his hair cropped to the scalp. It is the colour of the stone called ‘tiger’s eye’, a beautiful blend of brown and gold, and I wish he would let it grow, just a little. He says it irks him in the heat, but I would make it worth his while.
Yet it was his eyes I noticed then. An indeterminate colour, somewhere between blue and green, as though the Creator had taken the pale blue of the English skies and added a liquid wash of gold. They changed from shadow to light, from expression to expression. I thought I saw a different me in them; a man I liked better than I had liked myself hitherto.
I drew out my own chair for him and made him sit. He toyed with his wine, his tanned face white as if freshly painted. I thought he looked thunderstruck as I; still deafened and dazzled by that moment of the divine. No wonder Jove’s lovers burned up entire when he revealed his full power to them! We had seen but an instant of it and we were as shaken as a toddler by the blast of his first cannon. Such a physical thing, I could have fallen on my arse from the recoil, and bawled for fright.
He looked afraid too. Instinctively, once I had made my introductions, I found a patch of shadow in which to sit, and let the Second Lieutenant, Angus Kent, fill up our silence with a long account of those things our old captain used to do, which he supposed our new would wish to continue.
Harry nodded in appropriate places. I saw his eyes stray to me. I wondered there was no crack, no snake of lightning following the path of them, for I felt it in me. Every fibre of my frame clenched and then released with a strange tingling snap.
He snatched back his gaze when he saw me watching, and coloured. His jaw hardened. “Well, gentlemen,” he said, “I honour your captain’s name, and he seems to have run a taut ship. But I go my own way. I will keep those traditions I find useful, but I do not intend the hand of a dead man to guide me. You must reconcile yourselves to change.”
A firm voice, a frank stare. They were impressed. But I had noticed that after that first glance he did not look my way again. His eyes travelled from one side of the room to the other by way of the table, avoiding me. I sat in a notional abyss cut out of the wardroom by his will, consigned to Coventry or to Hell, whichever would suit me best.
Oh, I thought, feeling the chill of it already, so that’s the way of it. He means to reject this. The most extraordinary event of my life, and I’m sure of his, and he intends to pretend it did not happen? I will admit that grudgingly I was pleased he was wiser than I and more self controlled. But I was wounded to the quick in my pride.
To be so easily dismissed was more than I could bear! Oh no, I thought. You do not feel the thunderbolt of Jove, and go on as though nothing has happened. The gods punish hubris such as that. You do not have the strength to fight against Olympus.
Look at me again, sir, I thought. You do not want to make them angry. But he would not, and neither of us would have believed the retribution that was to come.