Larita Arnold,
The Fastest Ship
(Lulu, 2005)

The Fastest Ship was sort of an adventure in and of itself for me, seeing how I drifted a little ways into the personally unchartered waters of the Sea of Romance during the journey. Of course, there's really no reason why a guy can't enjoy a little romance every now and again -- and there's pirates and treasure here to boot, so there you go, matey. There's also a historical backdrop to the story, namely the maiden voyage of HMS Warrior, England's first iron-clad ship, in 1861. All of the book's characters are fictitious, but the ship's description is based on fact, making this a story of both historical and human interest.

The Fastest Ship is a rather complicated love story surrounding the young daughter of the governor of Jamaica. During her engagement to a young Col. Whitworth, Elena Williams is kidnapped from her home by a tough-as-nails pirate named McGwyer. Blaming Whitworth for the death of his wife and unborn baby, McGwyer seeks to return the favor to his nemesis. After a forced marriage, McGwyer and his reluctant bride do not enjoy a night of wedded bliss; instead, a seriously beaten Elena manages to escape. She is found the next day by Captain Jack Ashbury of HMS Griswold. Unable to remember anything about her previous life, Elena -- who now takes the name Angelica -- falls in love with the dashing captain, and the two are married upon the ship's return to England (despite the fact that Angelica was obviously pregnant by someone other than McGwyer). A short time later, Whitworth finally tracks down his former fiancee and is heartbroken to learn she is now happily married. Newly acquainted with her true history, Angelica begins to remember more and more about her experiences -- including the location of McGwyer's cave full of treasure. Two years later, she accompanies her husband back to the Caribbean on the maiden voyage of the Warrior (a ship now-Admiral Ashbury helped build). Violent past and blissful present collide upon her return, setting up a drama seemingly preordained by fate itself.

There's really no question that this is a romanticized story. I don't think any British sailors of the 1850s and '60s lived the kind of idyllic lives of Ashbury's loyal crewmen, Ashbury is remarkably accepting of his new wife's pregnancy by another man, and the two lovebirds do get awfully lovey-dovey at times. The characters, though, are remarkably well developed, especially the roguish McGwyer. The reader's knowledge of the events fuelling his murderous rage makes him very human and even sympathetic to some degree.

Larita Arnold has written a novel of romantic historical fiction that should appeal to a whole cross-section of readers. Whether you come for the romance or the historical details surrounding the transition from wooden ships to iron-clad monsters, readers should enjoy Arnold's mixture of the two genres. This tale of romance on the high seas is certainly worth the price of the voyage.

by Daniel Jolley
11 February 2006

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