It would be hard to choose the worst problem facing Lieutenant Charles Dance in his new peacetime posting, a scientific expedition on board the HMS Tenacious. Is it the ship’s state of disrepair and leaks? The drunken captain? The vicious bosun? The purser who ran off with the entire budget? Or is it J.E. Burke, a conchologist who doesn’t disclose until arriving at the ship that she’s a female named Jane? I just flat-out loved this naval adventure story.
Charles’s duty in the face of complete command failure is a full plot of its own, and I appreciated the author depicting him realistically as a naval man. Despite the captain’s dereliction of duty, Charles shuts down criticism of him and won’t let his servant address him as ‘captain’ even in jest – it would be mutinous. There was such suspense in watching him face the endless crises thrown his way because I had no idea where the author was going with the story, and therefore any crisis could be one too many. When he and Jane finally get a break (I won’t say more because of spoilers), it was also fun to watch him feel chagrined at how she didn’t need him.
Bluestocking heroines are a hard sell for me, because I find authors usually devolve to ‘oh, she totally reads’ as cliché shorthand for ‘this is the heroine and you should root for her’. I was delighted to find Jane as a plausible, quiet scholar, forced to choose between taking an out-of-character gamble or forever stagnating at home. She doesn’t magically charm an entire ship with her winsomeness and twee personality, but she manages to arrange things to help Charles and herself in the face of significant hostility (including death threats).
As far as Jane and Charles together, this book had all the best traits of a forbidden/workplace romance and a road romance. They build so much tension on a ship where they can’t even touch. I do wish that they’d given a little more thought to the possibility of pregnancy when they finally do give in, but it’s a small quibble in this story.
The author strikes an excellent balance in setting development. We need naval and ship construction information in order to establish the crisis facing Charles, to demonstrate his skills and knowledge, to take the setting past wallpaper, and to justify several key plot points. She gives us that amount without droning on for several pages about how to pick rope apart to make patches or whatever it is one does with picked-apart rope. She does the same with Jane’s conchology, showing us the shells Jane is fascinated by or briefly describing Jane’s study of the ship’s barnacles (a nice tribute to the barnacle-enthusiast Charles Darwin) before resuming the story.
Just to be clear to all readers, this is not a new release – published in 2014, it is the fifth and final book in the Reckless Brides series, all of which have now earned DIK grades at AAR. The first book is Almost a Scandal, but the series does not have to be read in order. If you, like me, missed this great book the first time around, I am happy to wholeheartedly recommend it to you. Go forth and un-bury this treasure!
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Hope you will!
Yep, it’s good, but sadly not great.