It might be too soon for me to declare this, but I think I love shipboard romances. I know I love a woman stealing away on a ship disguised as a boy, and I recently read a fun book with a woman pirate captain, and now this one with a female scientist — a conchologist — going on a research expedition. All good!
Jane’s father is a famous conchologist (studier of shells, mollusks, barnacles, and the like), but what the world doesn’t know is that Jane does all the work for him. She draws and colors the illustrations, writes the studies, obtains research equipment, and corresponds with scientific peers. Her father is too proud to give her recognition, and too ashamed to let her go on an extended expedition with him because she’ll demonstrate her superior skills. Jane is fed up with his nonsense. She hops in her little sailboat, which she has packed just so with all of her supplies, and sails away to meet the naval ship that has been tasked with transportation.
Lieutenant Charles Dance has just accepted what he believes is a simple post. Since the end of the war, so many naval officers have sat around useless, so he is grateful for any job. But the Tenacious is not what he had in mind. The captain is a drunk who refuses to come out of his cabin, the ship is in such a state of disrepair that it would be suicide to sail, and the men onboard are lazy and belligerent. After much work on his part, the ship is finally ready to sail. And then a wide-eyed, buttoned-up spinster sails up and claims to be a member of the expedition.
You guys, Jane is awesome. No one wants her onboard, but with no objection from Lieutenant Dance, and a vague acceptance from one other member of the research team, she manages it anyway. Then she uses her scientific eye to study the ship, the barnacles on her hull, and the handsome, stern Lieutenant. “He was strange — handsome and off-putting all at the same time, like a spiny combed murex. Beautiful and dangerous and very, very interesting. And she wanted to catalogue his secrets.” Jane is forever observing and trying to arrange things and people to suit her better.
Dance is equally awesome. He has to run the ship without looking mutinous towards the absent captain, and it’s not easy with all the grumbling men. He maintains strict outward professionalism, which contrasts mightily with his interior thoughts full of cursing and anger. His dedication to his job, his downright refusal to crack under pressure, is astonishing. Jane is the only person to realize how hard he works and worry about his well-being, but he can’t do anything about it because he has a bloody ship to run! Here’s what he thinks of her at one point: “She would… deny him the pleasure of thinking ill of her, the efficient, unfairly intelligent little bluestocking. Damn her for being so accommodating.”
Their dialogue is, yes, awesome. They begin with a battle of wills over who can shock the other more. Then, Jane continues to approach Dance because he’s her closest thing to an ally. She tells him, “If you are not careful I might discover that there is an actual charming gentleman hiding beneath your impressive naval scowl.”
Later, when he reminds her of something she once said, Jane says, “It is ungentlemanly of you to remember that.” “It is not,” Dance responds. “It is charming.” Theirs is a buttoned-up attraction, until it ignites. They only kiss at first, but it’s tangled with different emotions and it was so rewarding to see them lean on each other for comfort.
I should mention the plot. It’s exciting! There are deserters, bad guys, storms, troubles, and more troubles. I couldn’t put it down. I had my eye on the percentage mark, willing it to stop changing because I wanted the last third to go on and on. The part where Jane is in her element and totally competent is a nice contrast to the shipboard scenes where Dance is in total control, and it gives him a chance to be torn between his affection for Jane and his need to take charge. I wanted to see more of them as a couple, but the action kept interfering.
This book is the fifth in a series but a perfect standalone. It takes place onboard a ship, or at a distant port of call, so there are no run-ins with previous characters, although a few are mentioned in passing. That being said, I think the other books are also shipboard romances, and one of them is a woman disguised as a man, so you can bet I’ll be digging into that one.
*ARC provided by St. Martins
Click to purchase: Amazon
A Scandal to Remember
by Elizabeth Essex
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s