I read my first Elizabeth Essex book a few weeks ago (A Scandal to Remember, reviewed here), the fifth in a series about Navy men and the women who love them. When I looked into the earlier books in the series, I found that the first book had a girl masquerading as a boy on a ship, and that is my catnip, so I tried to buy it. Then Amazon told me that I had already purchased that book about five months ago! So, good job, me from five months ago, for buying a book from an unknown author based solely on the premise! And bad job, current me, for letting my TBR pile get so big.
Sally Kent is the only daughter of a Navy captain. She was raised on her father’s ship along with her younger brother, and her older brothers have all become captains. Ships are in her blood. She was put ashore in her teens to become a proper young lady, but she felt bored and lonely. Her younger brother, Richard, was assigned to join a ship, but all he’s ever wanted to do was join the church. On the morning of Richard’s scheduled departure, he disappears. To save her family’s honor, and to get out of the house, Sally binds her breasts, puts her hair in a club thingie, and dresses in Richard’s clothes.
Lieutenant Colyear brings Sally to the ship. Col is great friends with one of the older Kent brothers, and has received several letters about Richard, warning him that Richard isn’t very smart or enthusiastic about his new position. So Col is pleasantly surprised at how happy Richard is in person, and how well he takes to his duties.
Early on, it’s time to send the whores ashore. Col and young Kent head belowdecks to shoo them away, only to find that one sailor is still completing his business transaction up against a post.
Instead of prigging up like a parson, behind Col, young Kent removed his hat and laid it solemnly across his chest.
“Devil take me if I don’t feel like I ought to take my hat off for such a biblically instructive display.”
So, Sally is awesome. She handles a bullying older midshipman (Devil take him, she was a Kent. She’d eaten colder stares for breakfast), and protects the young ones. She spots enemy ships, she climbs the masts, she calculates navigation (“Mr. Kent, have you finished those complicated calculations of time and tide and speed of current you are no doubt making in your capacious brain yet?”). She loves being on a ship.
Col is curious about Kent, telling himself that it’s because Kent is so different from what he expected. There are no confusing romantic feelings about a young boy, just pleasant surprise and pride. Col is also not stupid. A few days into their journey, Kent sings a song high up on the masts, and Col recognizes that voice. He spent a few weeks at the Kent family home several years ago, and remembers a younger sister following them around. He wasn’t annoyed by the sister, he was intrigued by her and wanted to touch her hair, even though she was only around fourteen and he was at least eighteen. Let’s just skip over that weirdness, okay?
So Col confronts Sally, but he can’t bring himself to tell the captain or get her dismissed from the ship. She’s really an excellent midshipman, they can use her skills! And he kind of likes knowing that she’s there. Ship battles against the French ensue, along with some subterfuge in France.
This author is way too knowledgeable about old ships. She throws out the naval terms like no big deal, and that makes it easy to read, even if you don’t know exactly what she’s saying. I totally enjoy her style, along with the dry wit that infuses her characters.
The romance was hot, but not altogether what I would have wished for. Mainly, Sally likes Col because she’s always liked him, and Col likes Sally because he’s always liked her. They admire each other professionally, but their romantic thoughts seem to stem from that time long ago when they sort of knew each other. Maybe that’s because they can’t show any affection on the ship, so they’re left to daydreams and fantasies, keeping their shipboard selves fairly restrained. I wish there’d been a way for them to crank up the heat while on the ship, but I understand why they didn’t.
Overall, it was very fun to read about a girl disguised as a boy on a ship who, 1) totally knows what she’s doing on the ship, and, 2) isn’t immediately outed once she’s discovered. She still bunks with boys! Take that, propriety!
Click to purchase: Amazon
Almost a Scandal
by Elizabeth Essex
Release Date: July 31, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin’s