A Scandal to Remember (Reckless Brides)
St. Martin's / August 26, 2014 / $7.99 print & digital
In Elizabeth Essex's A Scandal to Remember, for too long, Miss Jane Burke’s father has taken advantage of her painstaking research. Heading to the South Seas to make her own name as a scientist despite the crew’s insistence that a woman aboard is bad luck, she isn’t prepared to be championed by a handsome ship’s officer who rouses longings inside her as wild as any storm…
For Lieutenant Charles Dance, a post on His Majesty’s survey ship Tenacious is just one more dutiful rung on the ladder of his career. Even a headstrong bluestocking on board is less troubling than the ship’s drunken captain—and the ferocious gales that drive the ship off course. Stranded on a remote island, passion blazes between them as hot as the sun, but it’s Jane’s love that Charles wants forever…
Elizabeth Essex's A Scandal to Remember is a very good Adventure on the High Seas romance. I could almost taste the salt in the air, feel the spray of the waves, and hear the creaking of the masts as they are buffeted by the winds. This is a Naval Story, and in particular, a story about Lieutenant Charles Dance as he struggles to do his duty with what has to be the worst ship and crew in the Royal Navy.
Dance is happy to receive what he expects to be an easy, two-year stint on the ship Tenacious, shepherding the Royal Philosophical Society's naturalists on a survey of the South Sea Islands. What he finds when he boards is a Captain who's been drunk for the past two months they've been in port and, as the consequence, a lazy, insubordinate crew on a ship in dangerous need of repair.
The evidence of the captain's mismanagement was everywhere—the ship was a hovel, about as decrepit and ill-kept as a Royal Navy frigate could be, and still be afloat. Lines were slack and rotting. Hardware and fittings were ill-used, and in bad repair. The entire vessel was filthy and stank like a stale gin mill.
In its present state, Tenacious was nothing better than a floating coffin.
As if things weren't bad enough, he learns that the purser has absconded with all the ship's funds. But Dance is nothing if not a man of Duty, and he sets about whipping the sorry vessel and hostile men into something resembling, if you squint and look at it sideways, a ship and a crew. To make matters worse, the expedition members board and one of them is a woman—Miss Jane Burke, noted conchologist (seashell expert)—widely regarded by sailors to be bad luck on board a ship.
“You can't mean to let her stay, Lieutenant?”
Did they think he had the authority to change anything about the plan of the voyage? His only responsibility was to man the ship to the best of his and the crew's ability. Past that, they all just had to live with the way things were. “I mean to take the Royal Society's scientists wherever in hell the Admiralty tells me they are to go, Flanaghan. And I mean for this ship's company to do so without complaint.”
“But she's a woman, sir,” he sputtered.
“That much is obvious, Flanaghan… Just listen to yourselves,” Dance admonished. “Like old fishwives. To my way of thinking, Miss Burke can never be the only woman aboard with you lot around. You bring your own luck upon yourselves. Now get you ladies to your work.”
Poor Lieutenant Dance. The odds really are stacked against him and the constant struggle gets to be too much even for him at times.
Easy berth be damned. Every time. Every time he thought this voyage could not possibly get worse it did. A drunken captain. An idle and incompetent crew. A lady scientist. No stores. No provisions. No money.
No bloody bed.
Perhaps he should just assume that each and every day he was aboard was going to provide him with a kick in the teeth, and set his mind to accepting it.
You can't help but feel for Dance, but I also found myself admiring him for his tenacity and determination to do his duty in the face of overwhelming opposition. There is a lovely romance with Jane, the Lady Conchologist, but A Scandal to Remember is really Dance's voyage—in more ways than one.
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Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.