REVIEW: Marrying the Captain by Carla Kelly
Dear Mrs. Kelly,
I admit right off the bat that I’m a Kellyphile from way back. Once I got back into reading romance years ago, friends of mine praised your trad Regency books and after the first one I read (“Reforming Lord Ragsdale”), I had to have them all. It’s a lot easier, and cheaper, to be able to buy them new. So imagine my delight to learn that you have not just one but TWO new releases this year. Nirvana….bliss…Snoopy happy dance….
Eleanor “Nana” Massie is a hardworking young woman. She really has no choice since the small inn in Plymouth owned by her Gran is her only home in the world. But it’s tucked back from the waterfront, far from foot traffic and the ships of the Royal Navy and times are hard. There’s little leisure traveling by civilians and the blockade being kept up by the warships means they’re not in port except for dire emergencies.
And it’s only such an emergency – actually an idiot fellow captain who accidentally ran his ship into the stern of HMS Tireless – that brings Captain Oliver Worthy back to port. While in London at the Admiralty House, he is asked something strange. Viscount Ratliffe, to whom Oliver reports, asks if Oliver will stay at certain inn and check on Ratliffe’s wayward, natural daughter then send him a report. Oliver’s never liked the man – there’s just something about him – but he agrees and heads towards Plymouth.
When he arrives, two things are apparent to him. One, he’s desperately ill with the throat and ear infections common to deep water sailors and two Nana Massie is the loveliest young woman he’s seen in ages. If he has to stay in port while his ship is being repaired, he couldn’t have landed at a better place. Pete, an old sailor who works there, can mix up a foul concoction that seems to be helping Oliver’s infection, Nana is a delight to be around but Gran takes the time, more than once, to warn him that she’s told Nana all about men of the Royal Navy.
For it was a young lieutenant who got Gran’s daughter in a bad way and she’s determined not to see Nana head down the same path. Oliver is initially fine with this as he’s long sworn never to marry and risk his wife becoming a widow. Sea life, even in peacetime, is rough and when England is at war, the risks are monumental. During his enforced stay while his ship is repaired, the feeling that made Oliver wary of Ratliffe’s request begins to bother Oliver even more. He knows Ratliffe is up to something but is it against Nana or England? Or both?
This is a charming, low key book about two wonderful people falling in love. I would agree with Mrs. Giggles that Oliver Worthy is an upright guy, doing a hard job and not asking for huzzahs or recognition for it. It’s a job, he does it and that’s the end of it. Given what he knows about the current situation in Spain, his impatience to get back to it drives him day and night. Nana Massie is the type of woman who sees a need and then quietly takes care of it. She’s no drama queen or prima donna demanding special handling. If anything, these two are sometimes almost too self effacing but in modern terms, they’d both be the “go to” type of person sought out when the boss needed something difficult done yesterday.
The details of life on a ship in the Navy add a lot to the ‘feel’ of the book. I’ve always thought that your stories about military men were among the best that you’ve written. These are iron men in wooden ships who tirelessly work day after week after month under horrible conditions to do what they’re ordered to do. I was rather surprised about the shore leave aspect. I guess Oliver’s men really do love him as a commander and source of riches. I vaguely recall reading that men in the Navy usually had a better life than the Army grunts. Regular food, crappy as it was, the chance of prize money and better odds at surviving.
Gran seemed more of a marshmallow for someone who’d been raised in Plymouth and had to work all her life. She did have A Talk with Oliver about Nana but I just expected her to act a little tougher instead of blubbering on about the dried up old governess who never took dinner with them.
I enjoyed the kind of earthy humor and ease with day to day life that we see. Nana starts out a bit shy in their marriage bed but quickly warms up and insists on getting her full share. You don’t veer away from the fact of chamber pots, nausea inducing hackney travel or clothes washed in sea water. While a full bore presentation of historical life would probably not be pleasant to read, these little touches make the story feel more real and less “dress up.” But I have to wonder – would Nana have heard of Scheherazade?
The spy aspect of the plot was hinted at for a lot of the book. It made me think of the age old dilemma of what to do with people living in your country who originated in the country of your enemy. Unfortunately, it’s something we still haven’t totally resolved. Though I was glad that the spying took a back-seat to the main action of the relationship between Oliver and Nana, I did laugh at the justice meted out to the spies. Oliver shows a delicious dark streak here and willingness to fight to protect those he loves.
As I said earlier, Oliver and Nana are basically good, decent people. But have they no faults? No maddening habits? No knuckle cracking or leaving wet towels tossed on the floor, even?
Mrs. Giggles also brings up a good point that much ado seemed to be made about Nana’s bastardy but in reality, she appears to suffer very little for it. The people of Plymouth obviously adored her, it didn’t seem to affect the custom of the inn, and Oliver brushed it off with little thought.
But for all my nitpicking, this book is classic Carla Kelly. We see into the thoughts of Nana and Oliver almost to a first person POV. I think this helps your readers watch Oliver and Nana fall for each other. There’re no “out of the blue” declarations of love here. No “why is this character suddenly acting like that” moments to contend with. And for me, this is wonderful.
Readers new to your work will be happy to know that you have a substantial backlist for them to search for – even if the search could prove a bit expensive. Long time fans can look forward to the kind of story they’ve come to love. And I plan on buying a copy of the book, even after Harlequin provided me with a reading copy for free. And I think that says it all. B+