I haz shame. I am SUPPOSED to be doing a BINGO Post…and also a Middlemarch one…but here I am, pontificating about something else entirely.
But that is because it is just so good.
I am bringing out the wallow pig.
THIS book you guys. This Book. Single-handedly broke the 6.5th ring of Dante’s Inferno, that was my bad book hell.
And I wasn’t even going to read it.
Don’t judge me – Look at that cover: it’s like everything that is wrong with romance covers in Romancelandia*.
And this book? Not ANYTHING like this cover. OR THE title – GAHHH – seriously did anyone read this book? Scandal isn’t even the POINT of the story.
This is a story of courage and ambition and reckless adventure.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a large dollop of romance and TWU WUV as the bishop would say, thrown in as well, but that is not the whole sum of its parts.
This is like Hornblower in petticoats – or Master & Commander – but scads more interesting and minus Russell Crowe in breeches (Something I am sure, we are all grateful for…)
Or even better? my 3rd favourite movie in the world: Cutthroat Island. (That movie is deeply embedded into my childhood and NOONE can convince me that it is not completely awesome.)
This story? Has substance and style AND élan. And — just in case you are wavering – it has girl-disguised-as-boy trope.
My early entree into this sub-genre(?) was via Heyer’s These Old Shades, The Corinthian and The Masqueraders; but the series that cemented my shameless hussy-love of girls-dressed-as-boys-however-improbably? Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness.
I can not help it. It is now written into my DNA.
And despite some recent less-than-stellar attempts which have made my zeal falter slightly, Almost A Scandal has restored my faith and love in this trope.
If you doubt me, I will confess: It made me ugly-cry.
Like Pinkie Pie…
From here on be spoilers…
Sally Kent: part of the family of Kents who have served the British Royal Navy for generations. It is every Kent man’s moral obligation is to report to those wild and windy seas. Except for Sally’s brother Richard, who wants join the church. So when he refuses to report for duty, and threatens to bring shame of the house of Kent, Sally, takes his place disguised as a Kent-boy.
Aboard the Audacious, Sally is able to live out her dream, traversing the seas, dangling from ratlines…(Which I now know IS a ship-thing), engage with the enemy (those dreadful French (!)) and conduct a little espionage along the way.
The only flaw in her brilliant plan be Lieutenant David Colyear. He recognises her pretty much straight away, not just as not the right Kent, but also AS Sally, whom he remembered from childhood. And now she is dependant on him, not to give away her secret. Colyear is dedicated, loyal to the navy, sworn to his duty and really really wants his own ship…
Now the cat is among the pigeons…
Although, from the outset, far too many people know that Sally isn’t Richard; it is important to note that Sally doesn’t realise this, and I think that is part of what makes this work so well.
Additionally this book is ALL about the ship. The jobs, the everyday lives, the way things are run. The food, the politics, the warring and the ship life. There is strategy and military operations, defence and long-term goals. And FIGHTS. Gloriously bloodthirsty pirate-like fights.
The romance does take a primary role, but a role which is even more important, is that of a female, being exceedingly good in a job, previously only meant for a man. The ship’s captain sees this. Colyear, sees this. Even Gamage, the rather OTT enemy who disappears half-way through, sees this.
Sally takes the hard knocks and general unpleasant, rather crude life of those sea-faring braves with alacrity and style, courage and perseverance. And humour.
“Are you going to tell me how you got that?”
She tipped her head and brewed up a small bit of the mischievous Kent smile. “Juggling. Wine Bottles. Most ill advised.”
He had expected so different an answer that the truth left him amused. And ill-advisedly intrigued. “I didn’t know you juggled.”
“Judging from the tenderness of my face, I don’t.”
How can Colyear not fall in love with that??
There are a couple of sex scenes in this – mid-level I would say. But, nicely enough, there is no enforced cabin-fever-on-board lurving – which your wallpaper ship-pirate-romance would have. Nope. These guys wait for the terra firma beneath their tootsies before they go at it like rabbits.
It’s these small details that I appreciate.
I can see how people may not like this. Sally, is a little bit too good at everything. Coincidences abound and everyone ends up loving her. She is ALWAYS ready with the right response, the best alternative and clearly has the eyes of an eagle, and the nose of a truffle-pig because she spots frigates from 50 miles aways and can smell storms approaching from the south.
A proud defender of the weak, slayer of the skeesey and general all-round superhero is our Sally.
Gamage finally managed to draw himself together in a pale imitation of an officer’s authority. “You’ll regret that, Kent. I’ll see that you do.” His voice was going dry and cracked with humiliation.
“Oh, yes.” She began to climb the shrouds, as if she were dismissing him. But she kept her voice carrying. “I’m quite sure you’ll take your first opportunity to shove my head into a deck beam or push me down from behind. Isn’t that your way?”
“You insult me, Kent,” he fumed in impotent fury beneath her, all but stamping on the gangway in a jig of rage. “I demand an apology!”
“All right.” She was almost directly above him and he had to tip his face up to the sun and shade his eyes to even look at her. “I’m sorry that you’re so pathetic a bully you have to pick on boys a third of your age. How’s that?”
But I didn’t care, because I too loved Sally – and I desperately wanted her to have a HEA. I unashamedly admit I squeed when Colyear fell in love with her because of her skills and abilities and the way she managed life, not in spite of it.
‘She let out a gusty, exasperated, boyish sigh. She played the part so well it shouldn’t amaze him that no one else was able to see her for who she really was…Or perhaps she did not play a part at all, and the Kent that stood before him was simply who she was—challenging, straightforward, and as useful as a well-honed blade.’
And the ending?
SO GOOD. A little sad; but so PERFECT.
‘Do you know what I see? I see loyalty. And devotion. I see what someone, what you, were willing to sacrifice for me. I see love. Only love could leave such a lasting mark. How could I not be moved by that?’
I don’t know if I can read the next one in the series yet — I am still wallowing in this one.
Vacancy: procrastinating no longer and definitely doing the BINGO post now!
Header Image: Combat D’ouessant Juillet- 1778, (Theodore Gudin, 1848)
*The thing that most frustrates me about this cover? The entire time she is aboard a ship, Sally is dressed as. a. boy. Grrrr