Sea Change by Darlene Marshall

BLURB:

Finalist, 2012 Golden Quill Award–Regency, 2012 FCRW Beacon Award–Historical.

American privateer Captain David Fletcher needs a surgeon for his wounded brother. But when he captures a British merchantman in the Caribbean, what he gets is Charley Alcott, an apprentice physician barely old enough to shave. Needs take priority over skill, and Captain Fletcher whisks the prisoner aboard his ship with orders to do his best or he’ll be walking the plank. Charley Alcott’s medical skills are being put to the test in a life-or-death situation–Charley’s life as well as the patient’s. Even if Charley can save the captain’s brother, there will still be hell to pay, and maybe a plank to walk, when Captain Fletcher learns Charley is really Charlotte Alcott. A war is raging on the world’s oceans, and two enemies will fight their own battles and their attraction to each other as they undergo a sea change neither of them is expecting, but cannot deny…

RHL Classifications:

Romantic Historical Fiction

Napoleonic Era

Heat Level: 2

Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

REVIEW BY EMERY

Although heavily favored by Shakespeare,  and there is much historical evidence proving that a number of women have successfully pulled off disguises as men,  the girl-masquerading-as-a-guy has never been one of my favorite romance tropes.  This is probably because I prefer realism in stories (also the reason I do not generally read  fantasy or paranomal romances). I don’t like having to completely suspend belief to enjoy a book,  and in this kind of tale, one has little choice. The simple fact is that women – even dressed in male clothing, do not look like men.

Facts: We are relatively hairless compared to men, our bones are slighter, and our features are much more refined. Our skin has a different texture, and our bodies have a distinctly different shape. That is not even to mention the obvious anatomical parts we lack—  notably an Adam’s apple, and the tell-tale dangly pieces. That a romance hero would be compltely blind to all of this is almost ridiculous, and what makes it hard for me to swallow this trope.

Having said all this, however, Darlene Marshall has managed to cover enough of these bases that  I had no great difficultly with the pretense in Sea Change.

After the death of her mother,  Charlotte “Charley” Alcott is raised more as a son than a daughter by her physician father, who even dresses her as a boy in order to take her on his medical calls. Charley doesn’t mind this. She has a sharp mind and an inquisitive nature and soon desires to be a physician in her own right—but this is a nearly impossible dream in the early 19th century. When Charley’s father passes away, she has no home and no livelihood and must make her own way. With the hope of continuing her medical training under her godfather’s wing, Charley masquerades as a young male physician to pay for her passage to Jamaica—but things don’t turn out quite as she planned. Midway through the voyage, her ship is boarded by American privateers who seek medical care for one of their wounded— the captain’s brother. Charley is taken for this purpose and maintaining her disguise becomes essential to preserving her life.

This is where I give kudos to the author. Charley is not described as a devastating beauty. If she had been, the subterfuge would not have been the least believable. She is tall and slender with blunt features. In addition to binding her small breasts, Charley wears her coat and cravat at all times, thus masking her shape and lack of an Adam’s apple. In addition to aping the walk, posture, and mannerisms of her male counterparts, Charley uses padding to help her look more like a male. Even with all this, however, there are a few characters who manage to see through her disguise. This once more makes the story more believable.

Above all, what made this story work for me was Charley’s strength of character. She was incredibly well- drawn and managed consistently to hold her own–even in some horrific circumstances. Here are snipptes from a few favorite scenes:

Charley’s medical skills are put to the test numerous times:

Later that day Charley was prepared to acknowledge that if you have seen one sailor’s genitals, you have pretty much seen them all…clearly these men had never heard that ‘A moment with Venus amy mean a lifetime with Mercury…’

And often under tremendous pressure:

Charley shook herself. Grabbing a cloth, she wiped her face and moved overto take the wounded man into the light. “Mr. Purcell is dead. Clear him off the table, Mr. Lewis.” Lewis stood frozen, glassy-eyed as he looked down at Purcell’s corpse. “I don’t have time for this!” Charley snapped; and hauling back her bloodied hand, slapped Lews hard enough across the jaw to rock him on his feet. “Mr. Lewis, help, or get the hell out of my way!”

There were also a number of humorous moments.

Did you men no hear me? I said Charley Alcott—that Charley Alcott standing right there—is a woman! A woman aboard the Fancy!”

“Looks to me like it’s the same Charley Alcott who bandaged my hand,”Reynolds said, eyeing the ship’s doctor up and down. “I ain’t got complaints about that. Any of you men got complaints ’bout how the doctor’s doing his job?” The men all looked at each other and shook their heads, or shrugged. “See? We need Dr. Alcott, Cap’n….”

“But he can’t wear a skirt!” Larkin yelled out from the back.

“Well that’s only fair,” Reynolds acknowledged. “You don’t want to wear a skirt, do you, Dr. Alcott?”

Of course this would not be a romance without a blooming relationship  between Charley and the ship’s captain, the dashing David Fletcher, aka Black Davey. David is drawn to the young doctor— at first to his intelligence, competence, wit, and courage, but later in a physical way that he finds horribly disconcerting. Of course this presents numerous tense moments until Charley’s secret is finally revealed.

The author’s hard work and research shines in the story’ expansive details of 19th century medical practices and life at sea. Although most of these details are quite fascinating, there are times they tend to slow the pace. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this engaging and romantic high seas adventure.

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