Across a Moonlit Sea
Memory does play funny tricks on you. I bought Across a Moonlit Sea at a UBS because I remembered loving it a few years ago. After reading it, I realised that, although it was still really good, something had changed and it sure as hell wasn’t the book.
Mind you, it’s still a wonderful Elizabethan sea epic, featuring a dishy French captain who privateers for the English and a heroine who is so refreshingly capable and self-aware I wanted to hug her. Simon Dante has just been betrayed by a jealous fellow privateer and, when his floundering ship and crew encounter Captain Spence’s ship, he commandeers it by holding Beau, Spence’s daughter, hostage. But while the two ships’ crews quickly develop a friendly camaraderie and cooperation in the face of danger, not so Beau and Captain Dante, who aggressively and antagonistically express their mutual attraction.
The highlights of the novel are its realistic setting, descriptions, and characters. This is a ripping good sea adventure, with billowing sails and cryptic cartography and 4-ton shooters. Never for a minute was I bored by the descriptions, and reckon I even appreciated more this time around as a more mature reader than I did the first time when I was liable to skim. It must be stated, though, that the battle scenes will be quite gruesome for some readers, so prepare yourselves if need be; but this was not an era of haloed daisies and bunny rabbits. And of the secondary characters, some fictional, some historical, each are memorable without being forcedly quirky and are entirely suitable for the historical era in which they live.
Simon and Beau are also good characters, complex and intriguing. Simon is a half-French half-English aristocrat and, after his first wife bore children by two other men while he was away at sea, has good reason to mistrust women. Yet, refreshingly enough, he doesn’t adopt the all-women-are-whores attitude, and instead is the first to surrender his emotions to Beau, who is unlike any woman he has ever known. Face it, you’d remember the woman who had a knife to your balls while you had one at her throat.
Beau has a slightly steeper hill to climb, having to reconcile her desires with a genuine lack of self-confidence regarding her femininity and desirability. She was hurt before by a nobleman who thought she was good to bed but not to wed, and has since kept her distance from men. But this aristocrat, with his beastly air and darkling glare (ohno! A rhyme!) is nothing like the poncey prig she knew before, and Beau has to be convinced that Simon is sincere.
Despite all these positive attributes, this time around I noticed that Simon and Beau’s relationship was not as developed as I’d have wished. I’m not 100% convinced of their love – what, exactly, do they have? Lust, admiration, lust, and at the very end, respect (and lust), which all equate to love. ‘Spose it might do, in some books, but not in mine. The development to love could have used more page time, and, after all the excellent showing Ms. Canham had done, the resort to telling at the end left me a little disappointed.
However, Across a Moonlit Sea is still a darn good yarn (and this is my last venture into poeticism). I loved the setting, loved the secondary characters, and almost loved the main characters, too. What more can you ask for? For Marsha Canham to come out of retirement, is the answer.