Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 372 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Note: This book was originally titled The Bastard.
Romance on the High Seas
The French Revolution stole much from Jeannette Boucher and her family. She had little choice but to marry well to lift her family out of the shame-and-grit-filled gutters of destitution. Her new husband is a wealthy Baron, respected and old, but she accepted her duty. Until she finds out her aged husband is also impotent and plans to give other men the use of her body so he can beget an heir.
Sick with fear and dread, Jeannette flees, intent on meeting back up with her family in London and securing an annulment. Instead she ends up out to sea, dressed in men's clothes, signing on with the Royal Navy in their war against the French. The frigate she boards is bound for London before it returns to war, so she thought it was the fastest, safest route. She needs fast and safe, because Jeannette has no doubt her new husband will be looking for her. And he will not be happy.
Royal Navy Leiutenent Crawford Treynor is furious when he finds out he's allowed himself to be duped, that the boy he's allowed to board his ship isn't a boy at all, but a sharp-tongued and belligerent young woman. And as he's already heard the news that a Baron is missing his new bride, Treynor has no illusions about just who the troublesome little beauty is. Now she's stuck on a ship bound not for London as their previous orders stated, but out to sea to join in the naval barricade.
Treynor will keep her hidden and protect her as much as he can, but it would be nice if she'd stop flinging herself into dangerous situations every time his back turned. And that's not even accounting for the war they're sailing to meet. Still, protecting Jeannette becomes more and more vital to Treynor as his attraction to her grows. Unfortunately, it's far easier to keep her away from a debauched husband while out to sea than it will ever be protecting her from the grim realities of naval war. A reality what could end up costing both their lives.
I'm no history buff, but I admit, I enjoy historical romance that I feel teaches me a little something about life within the era and location the book is set. I had never really pondered the intricacies and dangers of the naval battles centuries past prior to coming across this book, and I knew even even less about life on board a warship in the early eighteen hundreds. Novak brought to the story a fabulous depth and wealth of information and attention to historical detail that fascinated and intrigued me.
It was, to me, the strongest element of the book and added a wonderfully authentic tone to the whole of it.
There certainly is no dearth of plotted story, either. Jeanette's wedding night and the nefarious plot that's uncovered before she is victimized jump-starts the elements of action and suspense in the storyline and everything else flowed very nicely and naturally from there.
I wish I was as enamored of the characters as I was of the historical detail. Unfortunately, I couldn't stand Jeannette for the first half of the book, and while I liked Treynor and very much appreciated the depth of his character and backstory, I couldn't figure why he put up with the level of haughty disdain and venom that Jeannette spews at him. I would have tossed her uppity butt overboard.
Jeannette has fled from her disgusting husband but, when Treynor warns her that she has to remain inconspicuous and stay dressed as a boy for safety sake, she tosses aside his warning and grabs on to that eschewed husband's coattails, claiming no man on ship would dare hurt her because she's a baroness. Later she vows to get even with Treynor as she eats with the common sailors while he eats with the officers. After putting herself into the position to do so to begin with. The frequent evidence of her ignorance and selfish willfulness got on every one of my nerves throughout the beginning and straight to the middle of the story. I could have cheerfully throttled her more than once.
Her character does improve around the halfway point in the book, and she does prove herself to be caring and fiercely loyal straight to the end. Which is when I felt Treynor's character - and the climax of the story itself - went off the rail. I didn't like the last couple of chapters and struggled with understanding Treynor's actions, as well as the actions of some of the secondary and ancillary characters. Because of that, the romantic resolution fell pretty flat for me and wasn't nearly as satisfying as I'd hoped.
There truly is some good story before then, though, and despite my issues with the characters and the romance resolution, I liked the plot. I could have loved it with a less annoying heroine in the first half. The best parts for me, though, were the authentic-seeming glimpses of an aspect of history I hadn't had before. The vibrant, gritty, descriptive writing and attention to detail brought life on a naval ship into sharp, obviously pungent, occasionally brutal focus. I thought that was exceptionally well done.