The words “An M/M Romance” underscore the title on the cover of Alex Beecroft’s False Colors, which features two handsome men in naval uniforms standing on the deck of a ship. A white sail is rolled up behind them, rigging crisscrossed like a spider’s web. To use an appropriate metaphor, the cover is a glancing shot across the bow before the reader enters full thrust into the emotional (and often times literal) battle that is False Colors.
Set in the 1700s, the love story of John Cavendish and Alfie Donwell is not an easy journey on calm seas. Both men are officers in the British Royal Navy; most of the book’s action takes place aboard ship, with the ongoing conflict with the French and problems with piracy playing a huge role in the tale. As much as this is “An M/M Romance,” it is also a very in-depth, detail-oriented look at this time period and I’d venture to say that from a technical standpoint Beecroft’s book is 80% battles and politics and the horrors of death, injury and captivity and 20% actual romantic content. But that’s okay, because it’s through the former that we truly get to know the measure of each man and watch them grow and change.
Emotional, flirtatious Alfie is comfortable with his sexuality, having been turned out of the house at a young age for his proclivities and having sought a career at sea soon thereafter. John is so deeply conservative that sexuality in general is a foreign concept to him. Raised by a devout Quaker mother and a father who was pretty much a libertine in comparison, he’s incredibly repressed. Beecroft crafts their story with care and they, and their often gruesome experiences in battle, leap off the page.
It’s definitely a Coming Out story for John, who grapples with accepting his orientation and his feelings for Alfie, but what I appreciated a lot was that they don’t live in an idealized version of the 1760s — as if two guys could skip through Kingston, Jamaica holding hands. That sodomy is a crime and a frequent basis for court-martial and the abrupt end to one’s career in the Navy is not something Beecroft shies away from. In fact, it’s a key component of the book: that these men are exemplary officers who have to hide a part of themselves. Reading this as the U.S. government is moving towards abolishing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was incredibly resonant.
It’s just a damn good book in general, action-oriented, thought-provoking, with a touching and often gut-wrenching emotional through line. You can read it for the period drama, for the political content, for the love story…and all of those elements have something unique to offer. Beecroft’s book doesn’t fly under false colors at all…it represents itself as exactly what it is: a vivid, moving story about men who sacrifice everything in the name of honor, courage and love.