Marrying the Captain (2009) by Carla Kelly is a story about a sea captain falling in love with the illegitimate daughter of a viscount in Plymouth. The story is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars.
Eleanor Massie, aka “Nana” runs her struggling inn, the Mulberry further up shore. The barricade and the ships returning back to shore has led to fewer clientale. Massie has had to go to competing Inns and leave placards to garner clientale. Things have gotten so bad financially that she has had to cut her hair to pay the more “pressing bills.”
Captain Oliver Worthy, an Admiralty Officer of the Royal Navy, has come ashore with his men from the Tireless. He had to bring his ship to dry docks for repairs and remedy a bad throat. He had already sent his sea chest to the Drake, an inn he uses regularly, before Viscount Ratcliffe approaches him for a favor. It seems that his boss wants him to spy on his daughter and asks him to stay at the Mulberry and report back to him on her situation. Of course Oliver is suspicious of his supervisor’s request and his involvement in this solicitous family matter.
Oliver removes himself from the Drake immediately and befriends and eventually falls in love with the viscounts illegitimate daughter. It is no small matter that Oliver finds himself in love because he never thought he’d ever find the right woman. Not only that, he never wanted to marry for fear of making his wife a widow. So for twenty years, he’d sworn off marriage and resolved himself to being just a naval officer. No doubt the author reiterates Oliver’s fears that wartime is hardest on those who are left behind.
Nana is a hardworking young lady who is kind and openhearted. Of course she falls in love with Oliver but fears that she is not worthy of his love. From Nana’s past, we learn that her father paid for her education in Bath but Nana ends up leaving in haste when she learns of her father’s “true” intentions for her future. It is a rather sordid situation that had the power to shatter Nana’s self-esteem. Needless to say, through love, she is able to rediscover her self-worth. In this case, love being the trans formative factor here.
What I enjoyed most about this story is that both characters were able to redefine themselves and what shaped their life. Both started out with one set of ideas or feelings about themselves and by the end of the story they were both changed. It was a natural progression of self discovery that never felt forced. I loved Oliver. He was generous, practical, fair with his men and commanding as an officer.
I don’t know about other readers but I felt the second half of this book was the best part of the story. It was better written with dialogue that zinged off the page. There was more action, more suspense and the pacing picked up considerably. I loved how the history wasn’t used as a mere prop or for decorative purposes. The war was a significant part of this story which I absolutely loved. There were a few surprises in here, along with a few explicit sex scenes that served the story and characters well.
There were, of course, moments of humor in here, too. Especially at the expense of Nana’s father who was never seen in any good light at all (nor should he be). No redeeming qualities here but then he was a skunk and a coward with gambling debts that made him out to be such a horrible villain, piss poor father and naval officer. Actually, he was a bit of cliche but so what? His actions caught up with him and I liked how everything came to its logical conclusion.
I think I laughed at all the right parts in the second half of this book. Out loud, too. But what made me really, really like this book? Nana and Oliver. Both had great chemistry together. It just felt natural. The author went far and beyond my expectations in this book. I thought I knew what was coming but was thwarted everytime. Kudos to the author for writing such an exceptional story. I don’t think I will forget it any time soon. After such a long hiatus from writing, it’s good to see the author return and on such a high note, too. A big welcome back to you, Ms. Kelly. You have been missed. My grade, A.
I wonder if it will be Virgil Dennison, the captain’s best friend, who gets his story next?
*edited for clarity*