V.E. Ulett,
Captain Blackwell's Prize
(Fireship, 2012)

It begins promisingly, with a clash of ships starting on the very first page.

Captain James Blackwell, of HMS Inconstant, picks a fight with a larger, more heavily armed Spanish ship -- and wins, fairly easily. Among the survivors he finds Mercedes de Aragon, a young, beautiful Spanish-American woman who can fight, navigate, etc., as well as any man. He takes her onto his ship and, with little ceremony, into his bed. Apparently, it's his right as captain.

Of course, they fall in love. (We're never sure exactly why Mercedes falls for the captain, although in one passage she does admire his muscular legs. Then again, she also had a soft spot for her previous lover, the elderly captain of the last ship she was on, so maybe she just has a thing for captains.)

The author, V.E. Ulett, isn't as descriptive as some in this genre when it comes to the details of ships, sails and rigging, but she apparently does enjoy describing sex. It's not pornographic, but it's a bit more graphic than I expected, given that the cover shows us a ship and not a woman heaving her bosom out of some torn, damp bodice.

The captain disobeys orders and keeps Mercedes on his ship on a vital and dangerous mission, and of course she is betrayed and ends up in a harem. (The villain in this case doesn't seem to have a motive for his actions; I guess he just likes to be mean.) Blackwell, told Mercedes is dead, goes home to England, where he is apparently out of favor with the admiralty.

So, after forcing himself on his captive, then falling in love with her and now believing her to be dead, our noble captain first dallies unsatisfactorily with whores, then decides it's time to marry. He finds himself a bride in record time -- none other than Jane Austen (yes, the author), and she turns out to be a loveless, sexless shrew. Woe! Abruptly learning that his true love yet lives, he embarks on a rescue after forcing Austen to agree to annul their unconsummated union by threatening to rape her right there on the parlor floor if she doesn't.

What. A. Guy.

This is the same captain who, earlier in the book, found himself so excited at seeing Mercedes in a midshipman's uniform that he "wondered if he might suffer a perversion." (Later, excited again by the same outfit, he straps her over a cannon. Ick.) And he remarks in conversation how difficult it would be to desire a woman who'd been raped, and how impossible it would be to accept a child produced from rape.

I don't usually read a lot of other reviews until mine is done, but while snagging Ye Olde Amazon link for the cover art, I noticed a blurb from Julian Mackrell, from the Historic Naval Fiction website. He calls this, with I suspect a straight face, "a Romance" and "a feel-good book." Personally, I didn't find this book very romantic, nor did I feel very good by its long-winded, happy-ending conclusion.

To put it bluntly: read something else.

book review by
Tom Knapp

30 March 2013

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