Source: we received an e-ARC of the book through NetGalley for review purposes.
When I saw this book on Netgalley I wasn’t familiar with Ms. Beecroft’s work, but I’ve been meaning to read more historical romance and since this was a novella I figured that if I didn’t like it at least it would be short. Obviously I shouldn’t have worried since it turns out that I was in the presence of a fantastic book by a great author.
By Honor Betrayed is set during the year 1750 (the blurb has the wrong year) and tells the story of Conrad and Tom. Conrad is a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Tom has been his servant since they were very young. Their relationship is different from the average master/servant because they are, above all, friends who care and respect each other. Conrad feels strongly attracted to Tom and knows that the feeling is mutual, but a relationship between them is forbidden and punished with death so they must resist the temptation and fight the attraction.
Everything changes when Tom is injured and Conrad reacts very passionately about it, rousing suspicion among their superiors. Now they must decide if they cave in to what the heart wants and condemn their souls and maybe even their lives, or continue to live apart and lose their hearts.
If I had to describe this novella in a few words I would say romantic, exciting and beautiful. Romantic because the star-crossed lovers and forbidden love tropes make for a very interesting and passionate read when handled right, which is exactly what Beecroft does here. Exciting because the road to their happily ever after is a tough one, and you wonder whether they will make it or not, it was hard for me not to read the final pages to find out how it ended and I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole time. And beautiful because the prose is evocative and striking, this novella was well-written and engaging. Put all those things together and you get a fairly good description of Ms. Beecroft work.
There are multiple parts that I wanted to quote, but I think these three illustrate well what I’m talking about and are some of my favorite:
“That, Conrad dreaded. To be asked to choose between love—yes, he could admit love—and everything else, to save his heart and lose his soul? Or save his soul and lose his heart? What kind of a choice was that? One, surely, you should never put before yourself in the first place. One that should be staved off whenever it hoved into view.”
Later on Conrad thinks:
“The magnitude of Conrad’s anguish caught him by surprise. How could virtue feel like this? How could it feel like death to follow the commands of a God who had promised him the fullness of life, a cup running over? How could it feel worse than the prospect of damnation? It made no sense.
His finger ends were cold, and his lips too. If my soul offends me, should I rip it out? He wished frantically and vainly for an argument, a decision, to be able to find the words.”
“Love did not solve all things. Love did not make this any less a crime. But it slid into the room like honey pouring from the spoon, and filled it up with a kind of awe, terrifying and wonderful. In its almost solid presence, Conrad breathed out, at peace with his decision. He had chosen to sacrifice all for love, and that was the right choice.”
Tom and Conrad had very different personalities that made for a very good match. I can see how they complemented each other and how much love there was between them. The story is told from Conrad’s POV and so his character is more fleshed-out than Tom’s, but by the end of the book you get a good idea of who they are.
Conrad’s struggle between what he felt and what he though was right was painful to watch, and I’m positive that had Tom never been injured, their relationship would have continued as it was. I’m not a fan of books where the leads figure out that they can’t live without their significant other because external forces make then realize it, instead of figuring it out on their own, but in this case it was the only possible way. This is not a contemporary romance where the characters are free to live their lives as they please, and that was part of why I wasn’t so sure if this was going to have a happy ending.
The historical aspect was interesting and felt accurate, I’m far from an expert but it’s obvious that the author did some research. I was confused by some of the more technical terms about the ship and even the clothes, but that’s what Google is for. The novella is full of details to help give it a sense of accuracy to the story, but it wasn’t annoyed by it.
The beginning was slow-paced, but the ending was a bit rushed and I felt like the length constrictions hurt that part of the story, but I admit that the ending was the best part of the book.
Overall this was a quick read, very interesting and exciting, with enough romance, action and adventure to satisfy every reader.
Review by Brie
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...
Carina Press. November 07, 2011.