Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex

Almost a Scandal (2012)
Elizabeth Essex
Grade: B
Genre: historical romance/ship-road
Sex scenes: mild plus
Source: NetGalley

Sarah Alice ‘Sally’ Kent has spent a lot of her life on ships. She’s nineteen years old and the only daughter of Captain Alexander Kent, legendary Captain of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. Her three older brothers (Matthew, Owen, Dominic) have all followed in the path of their father and are deeply respected in their own right. Until several years ago, Sally and her youngest brother Richard spent much of their childhood travelling the world with their father on his ship. For the past few years, Sally and Richard have been left at their family home in Falmouth. While Sally longs for the sea, Richard has absolutely no desire to follow in the family tradition and has instead resolved to join the clergy. When his father and older brothers secure him a place as a midshipman on the Audacious, he runs away the day that he's scheduled to board the ship. Knowing that Richard's absence could possibly ruin the Kent reputation, Sally knows that there is only one thing that she can do: take Richard’s place.

Wearing her uniform has never felt more right. Sally is no stranger to ships: she didn’t spend all that time on her fathers’ doing nothing. She does know that her time pretending to be Richard on the Audacious will be much harder than she imagined because of one man: David St. Vincent Colyear, or Col. Col is the best friend of her eldest brother Matthew and in the years since she last saw him, he's climbed the ranks to make First Lieutenant and her crush is still as potent as ever. Sally is already in Col’s bad books for being late on board and her knowledge of life at sea only makes her stand out more. It’s especially damaging when Col has already been informed by Matthew and Owen that their youngest brother Richard has no affinity for the sea

It doesn't take Col long for him to make the connection between the Kent before him and pretty Sally Kent of several summers ago and younger sister of his best friend. He accepts that her gender is something that Sally must admit to the Captain of the Audacious herself, but Sally refuses to do so. Sally and Col's close relationship isn't going unnoticed by others on the ship: Damian Gamage has been midshipman for so long that the Captain doesn’t even bother to submit his name for the Lieutenancy tests any more. He's known for being a bully and a bit thick; most give him a wide berth but Sally can't stand such behaviour and can't stop herself confronting him. It earns her nothing but more grief from Damian and a telling-off from Col who says she should know better.

The Audacious’ mission is to capture Spanish ships and when Col is sent on a secret mission on land to sabotage the enemy, there’s only one person he trusts enough to go with him. Their expedition allows them precious time alone that they can’t get on board that will change the dynamics of their relationship forever …

I like Almost a Scandal because of all the nautical references and jargon - the only thing I know about ships is that port is left and starboard is right; then something else about a red light indicating the left side and a green one the right. That’s pretty much everything I know about ships with spare space in the nutshell left over. Elizabeth Essex, on the other hand, has an MA in Nautical Archaeology and clearly knows her stuff. I appreciate a work that is well researched because from all the reading and referencing I’m required to do in a law essay (a LOT, let me tell you. AND references count towards word count – despicable) I know how much time and effort it takes to do properly. Even though I didn’t understand most of what the characters were talking about, it was evident that Ms Essex had taken the time to put her expertise in this area to good use and it really pays off because I’m very impressed. Of course, she could be talking a pile of shit and us ignorant folk would be none the wiser, but I doubt that that’s the case here.

I find the girl-dressed-up-as-a-boy story hot. I know it’s a cheesy film, but I love She’s the Man (never actually read Twelfth Night but oh well) and it’s always a fun plot device to read in historicals because it’s so much harder (and more dangerous) for the girl to do and get away with. Duchess by Night is a very good example by Eloisa James and AAR has a huge list of cross-dressing books here.

Col finds out quite early on just who Richard Kent is. IMO, this just makes it even hotter. It’s hilarious in Duchess by Night because Jem finds himself attracted to Harry/Harriet, even though he’s never experienced homosexual desires before; Col experiences similar but less intense feelings here. As Col discovers Sally’s sex so early on, part of the hotness-factor is knowing that Col knows, and that he can’t do anything about it because there’s another two-hundred-plus men on board. It’s brilliant to watch in action.

I learned a whole bunch of new words when reading Almost a Scandal. There were at least half-a-dozen that I had to bookmark whilst reading which was exciting. Then I was really stupid and forgot to write them down somewhere else besides the document itself, and now I don’t know any of them because the document has expired and I can’t access it any longer. Sucks.

I like the message that Almost a Scandal gives about the capabilities of females and suchlike. Sally Kent is very much a girl but proves a hundred times over that she’s better than and worth a hundred boys. Even better is that Col knows this and shows time and time again that he doesn’t care about whether or not her sex should determine whether or not she’s she should or shouldn’t fulfil her tasks. Sure, he tries to get her several times to confess to the Captain and go home to safety, and he goes out of his way to try and get the less-dangerous tasks assigned to her, but the fact remains that Col treats Sally as an equal and I love him for it. Sure, I’m all for chivalry and guys opening doors for women etc but I’m also strongly of the opinion that women shouldn’t be barred from doing this just because we’re women. Of course, this is several hundred years ago and so there existed massively different expectations on the roles of the different sexes and Ms Essex wonderfully turns these on their head. Not only does Sally do what she wants, but in the end, her family grudgingly accepts it too.

This was a really fun, fresh read. I’m sure I’ve read other ship-romances but I can’t remember any of them. I’ve huge respect for Ms Essex for the amount of research she’s put into this work and this is definitely one of the best researched books I’ve read in a long time, if not ever. I’d definitely like to get my hands on this again someday so that I can (a) actually take note of all the ship references and (b) find all those new words and actually look them up. Who says romance novels aren’t good for anything?

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction

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