By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
I really, really loved the first book in this series, Almost a Scandal, and then the next one or two were only meh, so I took a break from Elizabeth Essex. I'm glad to reconnect with her nautical historical romances, because I'm a sucker for tall ships, and this book was lovely.
In the peace following the Napoleonic Wars, much of the British Navy has become redundant, including Lt. Charles Dance. He's relieved when an old shipmate pulls strings to get him assigned to the Tenacious, a ship with orders to take a group of naturalists to the South Pacific on a scientific expedition. Yet as soon as Dance comes aboard, he finds the Tenacious in sorry shape. The Captain is a drunkard who won't leave his cabin, the bosun is an untrustworthy bully, the purser deserts with the ship's accounts before they even set sail, the crew is lazy and untrained, and the ship itself is so badly maintained as to be barely seaworthy. And then the scientists show up, and one of them is a woman. Although Dance is attracted to Jane from the start, she is yet one more complication he doesn't need on this ill-fated voyage. Most of the crew is too superstitious to tolerate a woman's presence on board, and as things go wrong -- and there is a lot that goes wrong -- the crew's resentment focuses on Jane. When Dance acts as her defender, and without able leadership from the captain, the crew mutinies against Dance, who has all the responsibility of the voyage with none of the authority.
Shipboard romances make up their own subsection of the romance genre, but this isn't the swashbuckler-themed wallpaper historical you may be expecting. Elizabeth Essex is a nautical historian by academic training, so she knows her stuff, and the difference is obvious and so satisfying: you get a real sense of the adventures and tensions and indignities and excitement of life at sea, not only technical details about sailing, but also the "office politics" of negotiating the relationships among men (and one woman) living in very, very close quarters.
The romance between Jane and Dance was satisfying if a little slow-burning for my tastes, and there's plenty of intrigue and adventure to hold the interest of even the most jaded reader.