I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 18 June 2013.
Between 1664 and 1814, the Royal Navy pressed (forcibly conscripted) men with naval skills because they could never get enough men to volunteer to serve on their ships. Any man between 15 and 55 was fair game and had to serve until they were released. If they tried to get away, they were labeled deserters and sentenced to execution. Some of the pressed men were rounded up by press gangs who would go ashore in port towns looking for men too drunk or weak to resist. Some men were hauled out of prisons and poorhouses to serve. The reason I bring all this up is that this dreadful practice is a major plot point in Kate Worsley’s stunning novel, She Rises.
Worsley introduces us to Luke Fletcher on the worst day of his young life. He wakes in the hold of the HMS Essex with a bloody wound on the back of his head and cuffs around his wrists. Along with the other men in the hold, Luke has been pressed into service in spite of his lack of shipshapeness. As Luke tries to adjust to the rough life of the Royal Navy and keep his secrets, Worsley introduces us to Louise Fletcher, a former dairymaid turned lady’s maid (in spite of her lack of training) to a very spoiled girl named Rebecca Handley. Rebecca has what filmmakers would call “It.” She’s a bewitching and frustrating girl. She flirts with everyone around her, though she’s supposed to be spoken for by a well-to-do merchant marine. Louise falls under her spell within months and it seems like Rebecca falls for her maid, too, especially after a bout of smallpox.
I loved the way this book is written. Worsley takes us back two hundred or more years with her characters’ language. They use the pungent dialog of the time. They talk about not only the sights and sounds of their world, but also the smells. She Rises is an immersive read. Luke tells his story in strong, descriptive language. I swear I could hear the snap of the sails and the howl of the wind as Luke, almost against his will, finds his sea legs. And when he talks about the girl left behind on shore, you can feel his longing. Louise tells her story to “You,” addressing her story to Rebecca.
As the chapters roll by, it becomes clear that Louise and Luke’s stories are not running in parallel to each other. It’s clear some time has passed between Louise’s experiences as a lady’s maid and her telling her story to Rebecca. Something dreadful happened in the meantime. But Worsley doesn’t show you exactly how the two narratives are connected until the last third of the book. She Rises changes from sea adventure to unlikely love story to a beautifully bittersweet bildungsroman.
I loved everything about this book.