St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-250-00379-9
Historical Romance, 2012
At a glance, the cover art of Elizabeth Essex’s Almost a Scandal doesn’t suggest that this is a maritime romance. Okay, if I squint, I realize that the main characters are dry humping on a ship, but I don’t normally squint when I look at book covers. At any rate, if you’re looking for something different from the usual historical romances revolving around aristocrats dry humping in ballrooms, you may want to look at this one.
Sally Kent, our 19-year old heroine, comes from a family of British Royal Navy officers. Being a woman, she’s not going to have the opportunity to join the Navy despite knowing more about ships than the average dude, so she’s resigned to disappointment. That is, until her 15-year old brother goes AWOL, preferring a vocation of serving God instead of the Navy, and Sally decides to bind her breasts and passes herself off as her brother. And oh yes, there’s the hero, Lt David Colyear. This is supposed to be a romance novel, after all.
Then again, this one is more focused on the heroine’s adventures at sea, with the romance coming off more like an afterthought. Sally and Col, as our hero is called by everyone around him, rarely spend time exploring their feelings for each other. It is only late in the story that, perhaps realizing that romance readers will bare their fangs and bite if they don’t at least try to show some semblance of romantic chemistry, these two begin to have some frenetic sex romps to make up for the lost page count. And even then, these two spend the morning after tiptoeing around each other, so much so that when these two decide to really hook up for the long term by the last chapter, I can only wonder how that come about. These two don’t show any electrifying chemistry or even a little spark. Sally comes off as someone who would be happier dry humping the mast of Audacious than Col’s mighty column. The romance is just there, and blah.
Sally is a pretty good heroine, though. Okay, some suspension of disbelief is needed, as the author doesn’t go into any detail about how she manages to hide her gender from the other crew members despite the lack of privacy on a ship. But she is a natural on board a ship, a rare heroine who is really as good as the author claims. Also, while there are most likely some idealized depictions of the seafaring life here, the author doesn’t shy away from depicting the grimy and not so pleasant side of this type of life. Don’t worry, there’s nothing too sordid and unpleasant here, as Audacious is a well-run ship with a disciplined crew.
Indeed, the heroine turns out to be the biggest troublemaker on the ship. Strangely enough, this inability of hers to follow an order that she finds disagreeable is depicted as a virtue, when in truth it’d probably give her a hard time with her superiors.
In this story, everyone respects and adores Sally when they believe that she’s David Kent. When Col realizes that “David” is a woman, however, his attitude changes dramatically. She’s to be sent home at once, as if her past impressive track record is automatically erased once it is revealed that she has a vagina. The author does a good home in driving home the injustice of this situation, but at the same time, she’s also guilty of doing something similar to Sally. Once Sally is in love, she’s all of a sudden an overly emotional hothead who just cannot – cannot! – bear to live another day without Col by her side. It’s Col, Col, Col all day, all night. Sally is obsessed with that man – or, judging from her thoughts and actions – Col’s pee-pee to the point that I can only imagine that she’d make the wrong call in the heat of the moment one of these days and put the whole crew in danger. Poor Sally – once she is allowed to be a woman, her IQ seems to take a dip for the worse.
Also, because Col is a poorly developed character, I don’t know how long the honeymoon will last, considering that I am not entirely convinced that he would allow Sally the freedom to kick ass in the sea like she wants to. He seems to like and respect her more when he thinks her a guy. Once he knows that she’s a woman, his attitude towards her changes considerably. I’m not certain that he’d be happy with a wife like Sally, considering his attitude about gender roles.
I actually think this one would work so much better if the author had written Sally as a male character and this is a gay romance, because this would alleviate my concerns about Sally’s ability to hide her gender and the dip in Col’s estimation of Sally’s worth as a member of his crew once he realizes that she has a vagina. That or if the author had spent more time fleshing out the romance between Col and Sally.
At any rate, this is an interesting story of a refreshingly different heroine’s adventures as sea, but as a romance, it’s lacking. If the author had managed to balance romance and seafaring adventures better, this one would have been a great book.