Almost a Scandal

Elizabeth Essex
August 2012, European Historical Romance (1805 Atlantic Ocean)
St. Martin's, $7.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 1250003792

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

Every so often I have a hankering for a good sea romance. No hint of the ton. No bloody muslin. Just crusty sea air, crusty sailors, crusty-feeling hair – okay, maybe not that, but at least it feels real, and Darlene Marshall has been a true find in this regard. Elizabeth Essex’s previous books didn’t particularly impress me, but with the first in the Reckless Brides series – which I shall personally retitle The Salty Sailors – she has my undivided attention.

The cross-dressing premise is actually one of my least favourite tropes, usually because it’s completely unbelievable. But I’m okay with Sally Kent masquerading as her brother on a British naval ship. She has the physique to do so, and she’s pretending to be her smaller, younger, pubescent brother. She also has the wits and knowledge to do so, because not only does she come from a renowned seafaring family, she also grew up on ships. So when Richard, bound to Portsmouth to report as midshipman on the Audacious doesn’t turn up, she delays until the last possible moment, then seizes her chance. Screw Richard and his clerical dreams – she’s going to live hers.

Lieutenant David Colyear finds it odd that the whiny, effete little brother from his friends’ letters has become a genuine sea dog, but soon he figures out that Kent is actually Sally Kent, the long-limbed, red-headed younger sister of his friends. He comes close to setting her ashore several times, but she’s damn good at her job, and he might as well keep an eye on her. Plus, the more he delays, the more trouble he’d be in, and the more he falls in love with her.

Which is the part I had the biggest problem with. Mutual interests, I get. Mutual admiration and respect, absolutely. But there is something missing from Col and Sally’s romance, reeking too much (at the beginning) of lust and half-hearted childhood yearnings, and not enough of substance.

That being said, the naval aspects are absolutely smashing, from day-to-day sea life, to the troublesome older sailor, to the Battle of Trafalgar and a daring recon job. And after 60 pages or so, things really get kicking, and I had a blast. I like Sally and David – they’re young-ish on the romance spectrum (19 and 24 respectively), but they have good heads on their shoulders and will do well together.

The books loses steam towards the end, but overall Almost a Scandal is a good, solid read. The next book in the series, apparently, is about Sally’s fellow midshipman, a prepubescent Mr. Jellicoe. Now that, I’m eager to read.

-- Jean Wan

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