REVIEW: Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased): A Georgian Ghost Story by Emma Collingwood
Dear Ms. Collingwood,
I both liked and didn’t like your novella Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased).
I was attracted to it as soon as Jane offered it to us, because your email mentioned it was a penny-dreadful styled ghost story, and I love the ghost stories of the Victorian era (it’s set in Georgian times but the style it’s written in is from the Victorian period). I didn’t realize it was a romance, and a MxM one, until fellow reviewer Jayne mentioned it in an email when I was already 20 pages into the 80.
And therein lies the duel nature of my feelings toward this piece. As a Victorian-style ghost story you did an admirable job, beginning with the naval men around the fire hearing a hair-raising story about a cursed ship from one of its men. I was surprised and pleased when at the quarter mark it shifted into present tense and the most intriguing character of the first part, Daniel Leigh, decided to challenge the curse himself by joining the crew.
There were hints about the sexual inclination of the captain, but everything was all done so subtly that I thought this was a ghost story in which one of the main characters just happened to be gay. I’m a fan of MxM romance, but I don’t have to have it everywhere I turn.
Then out of the blue the main character, whose point of view we’d been reading all this time, declares his love! To say that it shocked me is an understatement. I understand Georgian gentlemen keeping this sort of thing to themselves, and indeed we get just the right amount of information concerning people other than Daniel, just what he’d know. But the story is told from Daniel’s close point of view, and I would have expected some idea of his feelings prior to this, other than that the captain’s smile of approval at one point made him happy. It would do that for any underling, so I don’t consider it to be sufficient to support this kind of thought at the moment he suddenly declares his love:
Did he know that Daniel tried so hard to excel in all his duties because keeping the ship in top condition and the crew at bay was Daniel’s personal notion of a declaration of love?
I don’t know if the captain knew, but this reader sure didn’t and she should have at least had some idea of it. So I was quite disappointed in the characters turning to romance because it just felt out of place, and was glad when the bump of their interlude was past and we were back to the story of the cursed ship. The ending to the story was quite suspenseful and I loved the unique approach you took.
The sea and ghost story were very well told. You have a real knack for capturing the period and the cadence of such works. (One small note: ‘dickhead’ stems from the 1960’s according to several online etymology resources, so it wouldn’t have been used in speech by Georgians. I’m not one to be picky about this sort of thing, but that one instance of hippy-era slang really threw me out of the story for a moment.) The rest of the work made me feel I was aboard a ship of the period. I’d love to see what you could do with more pages at your disposal.
Regarding the book itself, the price might seem a little steep to some, $10 for an 80 page booklet. I don’t actually have the booklet in my hands, but from the pictures on your website you were going for a very authentic look in recreating the ‘penny dreadful’. The illustrations are marvelous and Amandine de Villeneuve is to be commended. It seems that the physical copy may well be worth every penny, but as I’ve said, I don’t have it to be able to say (Readers, the author did offer it, but I was hasty and read the e-copy she sent. It is only my fault.). I don’t see an e-version being offered though that is what I read.
In summation, I wouldn’t suggest this to fans simply looking for a MxM romance, as the speed with which romance was introduced and the little face-time it was given made it unconvincing. As an old-fashioned ghost story set at sea however this excels, and anyone who likes those would enjoy the booklet for that alone. If the physical copy lives up to its pictures, it would only add to the enjoyment. Grade: B.
This book can be purchased in hardcopy, the way I’d recommend buying it if there is a choice, here on the author’s website.
It’s next to impossible to tell the story from a person’s PoV without revealing some important aspect of how that person feels before you want to. I’d buy that a particularly talented author could find a way to do it, but it’s unlikely to work for most authors.
I agree Heather. I would have found it more believable if he’d been suppressing that side of himself, but he seemed to embrace it so it didn’t make sense to me that he wouldn’t have had something about it in his thoughts before we heard him speak of it.
I love ghost stories. I’ll see if my library has it. I cannot and will not buy another graphic novel right now. No space. None. Nada. Thanks for the review.
Hi Keishon, this isn’t a graphic novel but a prose booklet printed in the authentic Victorian style of the penny dreadful. There are a few illustrations, but these are just accompanying text. It’s a special print job so I seriously doubt your library will have it.
I really love the “historical immersion” concept–in terms of both graphics and storyline–but I’m unwilling to shell out a ten-spot for an eighty-page niblet. Moreover, I get no sense of any strong central conflict. Is there one, Jan?
Well I must disagree in that I found the inclinations of the captain quite apparent, and personally I was delighted with the way the tale was handled. It was a charming and beautifully written tale, and I shall most certainly be awaiting to see the esteemed names of Penny, Dreadful and Tarbottom in the future, especially if accompanied by the name ‘Collingwood’.
There actually is conflict in terms of the “ghost”. There’s an evil on board the ship that has to be defeated, and the hero’s personality is key to the battle. That does have something to do with the relationship, but it seemed almost incidental to me, as did unfortunately the relationship itself.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read and review my book. I really appreciate it, and I’m very grateful for your comments. I wish I could have sent you “the real thing” (if you still want a copy, please yell) – it makes a lot of difference. That’s one of the reasons why there’s no e-book version available.
I agree that the hints of Daniel’s sexual orientation might have been too subtle (there were a couple of them before that scene). Would you have felt differently and seen it as less of a surprise if you’d known in advance about it? But that’s obviously something I’ll have to work on for the 2nd edition. Thanks for pointing it out.
Ouch! You’re perfectly right. Shame on me… that one flew right under my radar!
My first novel will be out this spring. :)
I’d really like to thank you for your honest review. You definitely pointed out some weaknesses I need to work on, and I’m glad you still found our little book entertaining.
As for the price: unfortunately, I live in a very expensive country. After the break-even, I earn about 20 pence off every copy.
Have a lovely day!
I think that knowing in advance probably would have made some difference. I was excited to read the book simply because I thought it was an old-fashioned ghost story, never dreaming that it intersected another love of mine, MxM romance. Jayne did mention the fact when I was a quarter of the way through, and it made me blink because I’d not noticed anything like that in what I’d read. But perhaps I’d have seen the signs had I been looking for them prior to that.
Still, the fact that the hero declared his love so ardently and from where I sat suddenly, means to me that maybe a stronger hint of his feelings wouldn’t have hurt. Then again, maybe I’m just dense. ;)
Ouch! That’s one slim profit margin. I thought about it after I’d written this, and I routinely spend $10-15 on one volume of manga which takes probably less time to read than your story. The price you’re asking is not unreasonable.
Congratulations! Can you share anything about it? Is it another historical story?
Or I’ve fallen into the old “the readers can look into my head and read my mind” trap. With very few exceptions I write male/male Age of Sail stories with a supernatural background; but I shouldn’t take it for granted that everybody knows. I think you’ve really made a good point there.
It’s set in both the 18th century and modern London. The sins of our past… if you’re interested: I’ve put the draft (I have to emphasise “draft” here…) of the first three chapters online for my readers to comment, shred and boo.
The Purser, The Surgeon, The Captain And His Lieutenant
It’s a *.pdf file and 100% bug free. There will still be changes, of course, but it will give you a general idea.