REVIEW: Sailor’s Delight by Rose Lerner
Dear Rose Lerner,
What a delight it was to get your email telling me you had a new book coming out and would I like a copy for review. Of course I said yes – I’m not silly! Sailor’s Delight is a queer (male/male) romance, a novella (on the longish side) set at Rosh Hashanah in 1813.
As a gentile myself, almost all of the tradition and religious observance of the main (and POV) character, Eleazar (Elie) Benezet, was unfamiliar to me. I’ve head of the names of the holidays but had little knowledge beyond that. I know you are Jewish so I figure you know what you’re talking about.
Elie is a navy agent (another thing I’d never heard of) who manages the affairs of absent sailors using a power of attorney. For many years, he has been managing the affairs of Augustus (Augie) Brine, now a sailing master (so many things I learned about in this novella!) for the Royal Navy. Brine has been engaged to Miss Sarah Turner for some 13 years and has been awaiting his prize money from a ship he and his fellow crew members captured a few years back in order to have enough money to actually marry. Elie has the task of accounting for the prize money after a long series of legal challenges and then distributing the money to the Brine and the rest of the crew/officers. All of this information was clearly well-researched and fascinating to me.
Elie has had deep romantic feelings for Brine for as long as they’ve known each other. They’ve communicated via letters of advice and instruction back and forth over the years; clearly there’s some personal affection leaking through the text. And, on the rare occasions Brine is in Portsmouth, he rents a room from Elie’s family, where, when Elie himself is in Portsmouth (Elie moves around a bit for his job) he also stays. Over the years, Elie has looked longingly and secretly at Brine as he shaves bare-chested in the morning in the room across the hall.
Elie has also shown his affection to Brine in other ways – although Brine is unaware of it. Elie has been supplementing Brine’s income, supplying things to him a cheaper-than-cost and generally looking after him for a very long time. He’s also been somewhat dragging his feet on the prize money distribution because once the money is disbursed, Brine will marry Miss Turner and everything will change. Elie won’t be able to dream anymore of Brine miraculously returning his affections and he will be fully out of reach.
Elie has a large and loving family. Unsurprisingly in the way of families, they’ve been trying to marry him off over the years but he’s resisted. Elie has no interested in a heterosexual relationship. Although, children would be nice, he knows it’s not going to happen. He’ll be a loving uncle to his many nephews and nieces instead. He believes he’s destined to be alone. He has sexual encounters from time to time but Brine is the man he really wants – and can’t have.
The story is told entirely from Elie’s point of view so we don’t know what’s going on in Brine’s head apart from what he says to Elie directly. I’m not great at subtext and there were times some of the characters were a little too subtle for me. I was a little lost during a conversation Elie had with Sarah Turner; their conversation was a bit too opaque for me.
As Yom Kippur draws near, Elie is convicted about his behaviour to Brine – the subterfuge and the delays and resolves to distribute the prize money so that Sarah and Brine can marry before he has to return to sea. The explanation for this is deeply rooted in his religion and the depiction of it was interesting (and new) to me and very moving.
For gentiles, Sailor’s Delight is entirely accessible. I obviously cannot speak to how it will be received by Jewish readers but my suspicion is positively. For my own part, I was happy to read a historical which is different in terms of there being:
- no aristocrats
- a Jewish main character (and a large Jewish secondary cast)
- navy traditions of the time and navy agents and prize distribution and all that goes with it
Even the Portsmouth setting was unusual.
Of course, it’s a romance so the main thing I enjoyed was that part of the story. As much as I’m not great with subtle and subtext, it’s clear there is a deep connection between the two men; it is dispersed through the story a bit like smoke through a room. It’s a part of the almost all of it.
I felt for Elie when he thought to himself that he was apart from everyone else. His family because he’s gay (not that he used that term), Brine because of his dishonesty (albeit the benevolent kind) and many of his other clients because of his Jewishness – their mistrust of Jewish people and their bigotry which make Elie a “necessary evil” rather than a trusted agent, let alone friend.
I did wonder exactly how Elie and Brine’s HEA would work out (of course there is one – I don’t think that’s a spoiler to say) given Brine was heading back to sea. Elie is endlessly patient however and I saw their path forward. It’s not a novella for the impatient however (although the story is not at all ponderous) – rather, not everything is tied up in a neat little bow. But the most important parts are clear enough.
I liked Charlotte, Elie’s 16-year-old niece and her story thread and how that linked to what was happening in Elie’s life. I liked how he decided to stand for himself and what that actually looked like in the various ways.
I also liked the acceptance of Elie by his family – whether they said it out loud or not; to those who understood, he was not condemned by them for being gay.
I’d have liked a little more about Sarah – perhaps she will get her own story in due course? Who can say. Perhaps it would have been nice to get just a little more from and about Brine but the structure of the story by necessity didn’t allow for that. But maybe an epilogue from his POV would have been possible?
I liked Sailor’s Delight very much (and those who are better than I am at reading between the lines will probably enjoy it even more) – the romance was sweetly charming, the heat level (on the low/subtle side) was perfect for the story and its relatively short length did not mean there was any lack in characterisation or plot. Plus, I learned a lot, which is always a good thing.
Thanks for your review, Kaetrin; this does sound good and I am adding if to my list.
I think that some of Carla Kelly’s novellas are set in Portsmouth (or it’s entirely possible my memory is mistaken); it sounds familiar.
I’m excited to read this. I wasn’t aware that Rose Lerner was writing straight up historical romance again until recently and this sounds like something I would enjoy (I’ve been reading more m/m lately and enjoying it a lot). I’m good with subtext so I don’t think that will be an issue for me.
I’m sure the holidays are represented well since Lerner is Jewish (or half-Jewish?) herself. I’m interested in seeing how she handles Rosh Hashana and presumably Yom Kippur as well. I’ve never read a romance with them in it.
Are Sukkot and Simchat Torah represented also? I’d love to see how she handles them too. Sukkot especially. One of my favorite holidays when I was a child in Israel—we got to hang out quite late in the neighbors’ sukka (my parents never built one so I never got to sleep over myself).
The navy stuff sounds like something I would enjoy too. My ex-husband was a naval officer and I liked shipboard settings even before that, so this too is an area of interest. Will definitely read this before the end of the (Latin calendar) year.
Is Brine gay or is he bisexual? Or is it a spoiler? If it’s a spoiler you can email me privately.
Also, Shana Tova to everyone who celebrates the Jewish holidays!
Carla Kelly has a many books about the British Navy. There are several about a British sailing master.
@SandyH: I find Carla Kelly’s books too alike so I haven’t read her in years (I got bored after a while and also Beau Crusoe turned me off in a big way), but Miss Whittier Makes a List is my favorite of the ones I’ve read and a nautical one.
@Kareni: I haven’t read a lot of Carla Kelly but I know she’s written a number of books set in and around the navy.
@Janine: Yes, Yom Kippur plays a pivotal role in the story and in bringing Brine and Elie together. I don’t recall Sukkot and Simchat Torah being included – they don’t ring any bells at least.
As to Brine’s sexuality, I think he’s gay but I could be wrong on that.
@SandyH: I’ll have to check them out – I enjoyed that this book wasn’t set in London and full of dukes and other aristocrats. I read (and liked) one Carla Kelly about a former navy doctor but can you recommend some others?
@Kaetrin: There’s a cute little Sukkot animation video here, if you’re interested.
@Janine: thx :)
This looks good! Rose Lerner’s one of those authors that I’ve vaguely been interested in but never bothered to actually read. But this may be the one I try.
@cleo: I think you’d like it Cleo. Let me know what you think if you do pick it up.
@Sirius: I hope you enjoy it! (I think you will.)
@Kaetrin: I’m not Sandy but I’ll answer. For a naval one I liked Miss Whittier Makes a List a lot. For Carla Kelly in general, One Good Turn is also very good. It’s best to read Libby’s London Merchant first before reading One Good Turn, and that one is pretty good too. I also liked Reforming Lord Ragsdale and I think it might be her most popular book.
@Janine: I have Libby’s London Merchant and One Good Turn on the TBR as it happens.
Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand was also very popular but it doesn’t work so well for me.
Let me know what you think of Libby/One Good Turn.
@Janine: I loved Mrs Drew! I think I’ve only read 2 Carla Kelly’s and that was my first.
I loved it Kaetrin thank you again for reviewing this and introducing me to this writer . First actual historical romance I have read in a while and lovely romance too.
@Sirius: oh I’m so glad!
@Sirius: She’s a great writer; my favorite so far is Sweet Disorder, but it’s m/f. I still need to read this one!
Still basking in happy feelings :)