Her Master and Commander
I have a love/hate relationship with Regency-lite historical romances. I’ve read my share of lite historical romances that had idiot plots populated by silly characters, but on the other hand I’ve read some that, while not a bit grounded in reality, were charming and witty. The premise of Her Master and Commander isn’t a bit realistic, and it is chock full of enough historical errors to make me wince. It has some charm and wit, but not enough to make it stand out among the glut of Regency-lite romances populating the shelves.
The Earl of Rochester fathered many illegitimate children, among them, a pair of twin boys Tristan (the oldest) and Christian Llevanth, whose mother is a tavern maid. While he never acknowledged his paternity, the earl provided financial help for the boys. But when Tristan and Christian were 12 years old, the earl went abroad and didn’t arrange for them to continue getting their money, and their mother went to prison for treason. Just as things looked their darkest, Tristan was shanghaied by a press gang but not before he managed to get Christian to safety. Tristan served in the Royal Navy, then as a pirate for a time. He eventually met Admiral Nelson and served with him at the battle of Trafalgar where Nelson died in his arms. Odd, and all these years I thought that man was named Hardy.
Meanwhile, the Earl of Rochester is dying. His silly young wife had no children, but the Earl can’t bear to see the title die out, so he forges marriage lines and bribes a minister to swear that he was married to Tristan’s mother. If Tristan can pass inspection from a board of trustees he will inherit the title and a pile of money, so to make sure that Tristan can come up to snuff, the Earl dispatches his butler Reeves to find Tristan and turn him into a gentleman.
After Trafalgar, Tristan retired with a load of medals and a lame leg to a cottage with a motley assortment of his former crew members. His neighbor, Prudence Thistlewaite, is a young widow who lives with her mother. She and Tristan clash constantly over his sheep, which jump the fence and wreak havoc on her garden. Tristan’s first mate insists she’s a pretty little thing, but Tristan can’t see her charms – yet.
Reeves finds Tristan – who is not exactly happy to find out he’s an earl. But after he gets over his resentment and realizes that the money will allow him to help his old shipmates, he resigns himself to becoming the next Earl of Rochester. But he’s going to need a lot of help from Reeves and Prudence if he wants to make the board of trustees think he’s a gentleman.
Tristan and Prudence were nice enough, but they weren’t really memorable. Their love scenes are lush enough, but they didn’t exactly catch fire. Frankly I liked them both better when they were interacting with other characters and not with each other. As a couple they were pretty much bland. For me, the most memorable scenes and characters were the supporting ones. Reeves is such an efficient butler he almost makes Jeeves look like a piker. The scenes during which he tries to turn Tristan’s former first mate into a proper butler are funny and charming. The same holds true when Reeves tries to convince Tristan that wearing a puce waistcoat will not unman him.
The whole idea of having to pass a board of trustees to get a title is not plausible. Titles go to the next heir no matter how incompetent he may be. And later on in the book Christian shows up and he has inherited the title of viscount from their father. This is not how titles work in the British peerage. There are times when I can overlook playing fast and loose with facts, but this one stuck in my craw all through the book.
For all the lack of chemistry between the hero and heroine, Her Master and Commander has some good things going for it. It has a yummy cover featuring a shirtless guy in an appropriate setting for once, it has some charming secondary characters and a number of funny lines. While it’s not a book to remember, there are worse ways to spend a few hours.