Review: HMS Submission by Jack Gordon

‘I know who you are.’The cat’s tangled thongs fell a second time. Mick flinched, arching away from the lash.

‘I know what you’ve done.’

Mick’s strong shoulders shivered under another blow. He caught the eye of the handsome midshipman. The stinging heat on his broad back increased, as did the burning ache between his spread legs

‘And by God, I will make your life the hell you have made mine!’

Under the command of Josiah Rock, a twisted man with cruel desires, HMS Impregnable navigates a course through pirate-infested waters of the Atlantic, bound for the Indentured Colonies. Christopher, Viscount FitzGibbons, has been forced by his father into a life on the high seas as a novice officer. Meanwhile, below decks, manacled and filthy, the roguish Mick Savage fights for food and plans his escape from the prospect of a lifetime in the penal colonies of the Americas.

The two men are unaware that they have embarked on a voyage towards a shared destiny. And they find that daring to transgress the boundaries of class and upbringing is as dangerous as becoming involved in Captain Rock’s power games or falling into the hands of lusty Spanish brigands.

Review by M. Kei

HMS Submission is a book with a split personality. The first half is a well-written, entertaining erotic comedy as the Irish rogue Mick Savage beguiles his way into the beds of a variety of England’s uppercrust, male and female, and robs them. With the assistance of his sidekick, the cutpurse Cat, he goes after the greatest prize of them all: The Gloucester Diamond. Disguised as a pair of priests, they discover that men of the cloth are just as fallible as the randy lords of London. Greed is his downfall, and he and Cat are arrested and transported to the colonies.

Meanwhile, the bookish and mild Christopher FitzGibbons is betrothed against his will to Lady Violet. Completely ignorant of sex, he finds himself strangely attracted to a Willicombe, an underfootman and young man like himself. With Willicombe’s help he attempts to get a sexual education and comic mishaps ensue. Just when he and Willicombe are finally reaching a mutually pleasurable understanding, they are discovered by Lord Christopher’s father. Lord FitzGibbons is Not Happy enlists his son in the navy to make a man of him.

And the book falls apart.

Once Christopher is assigned to the HMS Impregnable under Captain Rock, and Mick and Cat are tossed into the filthy hold along with the other prisoners Captain Rock is charged to deliver to the penal colony, the author loses faith in his materials and reverts to gay porn scenes. Previously in the book the numerous erotic encounters had some point in the story—Mick’s cuckolding of the betrothed Lord Christopher when each has no idea who the other is, for example, is an amusing scene that grows out of the characters of the various people involved and sets up the complications that will ultimately bring the two men together. The sex scenes aboard the Impregnable are not the result of any particular motivation aside from the author’s need to fill out the requisite number of pages of men screwing.

Needing to resolve Willicombe’s unrequited love for Christopher, suddenly we discover that he and Cat knew each other when they were boys and are happy to be back together again. After mistreating Mick, Captain Rock is enlightened and suddenly forgives and embraces his own gay son. Preposterously, all this happy-ending occurs aboard the ship belonging to the Spanish pirate El Niño, The Boy, who isn’t a boy at all, but either a hermaphrodite or a girl in disguise. It is El Niño who rearranges everything so that everybody (except Captain Rock) gets laid and everybody forgives and embraces everybody.

I’m all for happy endings, and those who know me know I’m utterly in love with wooden ships, but the second half of the book was a snooze. The author couldn’t tell a jib from a square sail, and aside from a few bits of wit when the other midshipmen set up the gullible Christopher for a prank, the nautical errors and mechanical behavior of characters who had formerly been engagingly believable, had me turning pages in a hurry to finish the book. One has the feeling that the publisher had a look at the manuscript in progress and snapped, “I’m paying you to write about men screwing, not Regency manners!”

What a pity. Gordon has a knack for humor. The bookish Lord Christopher—who is so earnestly struggling to be the man his father wants him to be while yearning for his books and other men—is the perfect foil for comic interludes. The reader can’t help sympathizing with the poor bewildered Christopher during the first half of the book. At the same time, Mick and Cat, whose flexible morality allows them to prey on the English, find that their streetwise wits can get them into more trouble than they bargained for. Even when we’re rooting for them to succeed, we can’t help but be amused when they get what’s coming to them—as in when Cat attempts to rob Mick after they have become lovers. I would have been very happy to read an entire book like this and given it five stars, but the second half of pirate porn ruins it.

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