Recommended Reads Saturday: Memory of Morning by Susan Sizemore
Memory of Morning by Susan Sizemore is recommended by Shana who is a librarian and avid reader. Shana says:
I am recommending this book because Because I really like this book. It’s an alternate world without magic, but the flavor she was trying for, and I think got, was Jane Austen crossed with Patrick O’Brian. I love the voice of the first person narrator, who is both highly observant and remarkably clueless at times. I love the worldbuilding, which hangs together well enough that I am able to spend time exptrapolating details. I’ve purchased copies to give as gifts as well as my own copies to keep and recommended it to friends when it was on sale.
It’s one of my three favorite ebook originals. (The other two being Ice Blue ( A | BN), a mystery by Emma Jameson, and Elizabeth McCoy’s Herbwitch / Herb-wife ( A | BN ) duology, an unusual fantasy romance which had me hooked from the first drabble the author posted on her LiveJournal, several years ago.)
The following is an excerpt from Memory of Morning posted with the approval of Susan Sizemore.
I think I shall start by telling you about the first time I was ever kissed. You might think that this is romantic, but actually – actually, it was romantic, for me – but it was just before the Battle of the Arum Sea and there was a great deal more going on. Yes, I was there at the great engagement when the Southern Fleet took on the pirates and broke the hold those marauders held over the southern islands. I was a surgeon’s apprentice aboard the frigate Moonrunner. Mind you, apprentice wasn’t the proper term anymore even if it was the official one. I had served my two year contract already and was moving into the twenty-sixth month of service aboard the ship. I didn’t mind one bit that the ‘Runner was late returning to port, except for my need to pass the final exam to grant me the Surgeon Certificate. Not many woman hold the title surgeon and I was anxious to officially be among that small number. I was ambitious and anxious to grab onto our brave new meritocrat society and make my mark. Being Doctor Megere Cliff was not nearly enough for me. The Imperial Navy needed surgeons, so they took on female apprentices when the Imperial College of Surgeons had yet to bend to pressure to allow women in their ranks. Getting your hands bloody delivering a baby was one thing, taking a knife to cut through muscle was unladylike. I’d taken advantage of the military’s need, not only for my own purposes, but from a growing sense of the rightness of serving my country, just as both my brothers had as well. Our generation wanted to war with Framin to end, so a new society would have a chance to grow in the Ang Empire.
While I was technically a civilian contractor, my heart and soul had been taken over by love of the sea – adventure, the fear and excitement of battle, the camaraderie – in some ways it was the captain I loved, the brash and famous Dane Copper, but more on that later. The point is, I was a well-trained, efficient surgeon by the time this battle came along. My apprentice master was Dr. Samel Swan, by the way. Fine teacher, brilliant man and I thought my heart belonged to him – though any liaison between us could never be! I was quite young at the time, in case you hadn’t guessed, full of romantic longings I was smart enough to keep under control. And no, it wasn’t Swan or Copper that kissed me. Most folk thought they were more likely to kiss each other, but I knew that wasn’t quite true.
Back to the kiss, and the battle, too, I suppose, though I saw most of it inside the bowels of the ship and what I saw was what I always saw – blood, gore, screams, dying. I sawed off limbs and shut the eyes of the dead. I made choices of who had a chance to live and who was only waiting to die and acted on those choices. I knew well that battle is anything but glorious. Oh, it’s exciting, at least the before and after parts can be, but the fight itself is nothing but gruesome necessity.
The early morning before the battle, just around dawn, I finished making preparations in the surgery and then made my way up to the main deck. I knew I’d be belowdecks for many hours to come and wanted some fresh air. I wanted to greet as many of the crew as I could and bid them the All’s Protection for the day. I wanted to see what I could of the battle order, though I assumed the nearest Imperial ships might be beyond the horizon, or lost in a morning fog. The Moonrunner was set out as bait, after all. Of course, I also wanted to do my duty as part of that bait.
Civilian or not, I didn’t often get to wear civilian clothing, and the skirt and bodice I wore now wasn’t even my own. My own dresses – of which I had only two packed in my sea trunk – were modest and middle-class, the necklines high and proper. I’d had to borrow something more provocative from Ganna Broom who supervised the laundry crew. Currently, the tight lacing showed off more cleavage than I thought I actually had. The bright scarlet skirt was full and swirling, but the material was thin.
The point, you see, was to appear to pirates as if we were a civilian ship. It should be easy enough for the pirates to believe that we were ripe pickings blown off course by the recent spate of bad storms. Anyone who had ridden out those storms, as the Moonrunner, and the pirate fleet had, would not be surprised by any flotsam spied floating – helplessly – this far south of safe shipping lanes.
So, I walked around the deck, hips swaying with the roll of the waves, my bosoms preceding me, and tried to look like a woman waiting to be ravished. The other women on deck, officers and able seaman alike, did the same. There are never that many females on board a warship, but we did our best to pretend to be simple passengers rather than, say, capable merchants. The appearance of the whole ship was supposed to plant a sense of vulnerability in the pirates minds. We women had decided to flaunt our femininity.
Of course there’d be women among the pirates, but they’d be armed and dangerous. The point of this exercise was for those aboard our ship to appear lightly armed at most and far from dangerous.
It wasn’t only we women dressed in civilian clothes. I spotted Captain Copper lounging by the wheel, dressed in an emerald green swallowtail coat and black trousers so tight it was evident why the fashion circulars referred to this current male style as Masculine Unmentionables. I know it was wrong to stare at the ship’s commander the way I did – no doubt my mouth hung open – but how could one help it? Captain Copper runs a tight ship and he’d normally be the last one of his crew to be seen in anything but the knee-length blue coat, red vest, buff trousers, black boots and tricorn hat of a proper officer. Well, he wasn’t wearing a hat now. His dark blond hair was loose around his shoulders, and instead of a starched cravat, he wore his shirt unbuttoned down half his chest. The sight was enough to send a hot rush through me, and likely most of the women and some of the men who caught a glimpse of our captain this morning.
If the pirate admiral was a woman, I knew what booty she’d be claiming.
I didn’t notice the man who’d come up behind me until he put an arm around my waist and swung me to face him. I had no idea who he was. Which is certainly an odd thing to say since I’ve already mentioned I’d been on the Moonrunner for over two years. There were one hundred and ninety four crew members aboard the second class frigate and I knew them all well. This man was a stranger. Which was one of the reasons my mouth continued to hang open as he smiled at me.
Not a handsome stranger, either, but very much a virile man. He was a long-faced, hooked-nosed fellow with a beard that made his face seem even longer. Dimples showed through the scruffy hair on his face. He had blue eyes and brown hair, worn long like all sailors, and loose around his face, as we all wore our hair this morning. He pulled me close to a body that was long and lean, the muscles hard as rocks beneath the layers of cloth. And the bulge at his crotch gave evidence of hardness as well. And he was tall. I’m not all that short a woman, but this man towered over me. And the hands holding me were big. Hard, strong, callused sailor’s hands. I couldn’t have broken his hold even if I’d been able to recall the self-defense lessons Lieutenant Breeze had drilled us civilians in so many times.
From the way I instantly melted against him, I guess I didn’t want to break that hold to begin with. The male wants female recognition shot through me, shaking me from my head to my toes and heating my insides far more than staring at the captain had done. Maybe it was proximity. Maybe it was the natural tension before a battle reverberating between us.
It was – devastating.
You might have guessed I was still a virgin when I mentioned a first kiss. Certainly not for lack of opportunity, but definitely for my own reasons, I was indeed a virgin. Neither ignorant or innocent though – please recall that I am a doctor.
“Good girl!” he said when I sank into his embrace.
His accent was distinctly not that of Ang. The words had a lilt to them, but not the same as the rich tones of Welis. The Empire is made up of thousands of islands, large and small, and I’m hardly familiar with the accents of all of them, even if I had run into people from all over while serving on the Moonrunner.
“From the north, are you?” I asked.
“As far north as can be,” he told me.
I knew that this man did not serve on board my ship. Who was he? What was he doing here? Holding me. My hands were on his shoulders, so I suppose it can be said I was holding him back. His coat was of fine brown wool, my sensitive fingers all too aware of heated skin and muscle beneath the cloth.
“A servant of the Empire,” he answered.
I’d never seen anyone’s eyes twinkle with so much mischief. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Then I remembered that the Fleet Admiral’s flagship had been seriously damaged in the most recent storm. For a while it was thought that the ship was lost, but it had limped close enough to the rest of the fleet for crew members to be transferred to other ships before it was scuttled. A boatload of officers had been dropped off the night before. I’d been scrubbing the surgery at the time and had retired to my hammock before meeting any of the newcomers. What an interesting way to make a staff officer’s acquaintance, I thought now. I assumed no one but an officer would dare behave as boldly as he did. Unless he was an able seaman that mistook me for one as well. No, no working class man would have such a bold and assured way about him.
I managed to find my voice. “Sir, I trust your – our – behavior is meant to be spied by the enemy.”
“That too,” he said.
Then he kissed me.
It was obviously a memorable, watershed moment or I wouldn’t be mentioning it. Well, I didn’t know it was watershed at the time, but it was certainly – wonderful.
His lips were demanding and gentle all at once, his tongue teased my lips open and his tongue and mine twined and danced and I quite simply caught fire – brain, body, soul. I loved the taste of him, the feel of our bodies pressed together, the scent of him.
At first I didn’t realize the explosive roar in my ears was actually the sound of cannon fire. And considering how often I had heard cannon fire in the last two years, my mistaking it for the roar of my heart says quite a lot about my state at the time.
But the man kissing me was not so dazzled by the moment. He realized what was happening and let me go.
He was still smiling as he patted my behind. “Battle stations, gel,” he said, and ran toward the bridge, long legs striding in that assured way sailors acquired during a lifetime at sea.
I watched him for only a moment before turning down to my own station belowdecks.