Review: On The Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

Standard

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

On A Lee Shore coverWhen his last ship is lost at sea and he is the only officer to survive,  Lt Christopher “Kit” Penrose finds his reputation tarnished, leaving him unable to secure a new position on another ship.  Things are looking grim when his godfather, Admiral Tregarne of the Navy Office suggests that Kit work as an aide to Sir George Wilberforce, traveling on the Hypatia on a mission for the Navy.  Kit is desperate to get back to sea and accepts the job, even though it means he is little more than a lackey in the eyes of the other sailors.

At sea, the Hypatia is attacked by pirates and three men of the Hypatia are taken aboard the pirate ship, Africa, impressed into joining the pirates crew or suffer dire consequences.  One of those men is Kit whose training as a sailing master is highly prized by pirates in need of his skills.  The Captain of the Africa is the notorious pirate, La Griffe, known as Griffin to his crew.  Forced to obey the Captain and live by the pirates rules, Kit soon realizes that not all of his assumptions about pirates and the pirate life are correct.   These pirates seem honorable, leaving the ships and crews they attack alive and able to sail away once the pirates have taken the booty they want off the ship.   Captain Griffin is a real enigma, intolerant of abuse, a graduate of Cambridge, he is honorable in a way Kit never expected.  Griffin is also very handsome, and charming when the occasion arises, leaving Kit confused and if he were to admit it, attracted to the man in every way.

The longer Kit stays on board, the less sure he becomes about where his loyalties lie.  Is it with the Admiralty and the Navy or with Griffin, the Africa and a crew that now welcomes him as one of their own.  And his heart is just as confused as his head.  Things come to a head when another pirate ship clashes with their own, and Kit must make a decision that will haunt him no matter which way he decides.

What a glorious book!  I picked it up and immediately found myself at sea on a vessel so yar she sped through the waves like a porpoise, sails booming in the wind and the mast creaking as the ship rocked in the currents.  Elin Gregory plunges us into a world where the British Navy ruled the seas, the East India Company is doing brisk trade and pirates are taking advantage of the situation by plundering every shipping lane of the era. And Gregory does so by rendering the time period and events taking place in vivid detail along with marvelous descriptions that bring it alive on every page.  Elin Gregory has gathered her historical facts and blended them beautifully with her fiction to create a sumptious banquet for the mind and soul.

When she describes Kit on his way to Moorgate, you can understand why the sea would have its appeal to a Cornishman like Kit:

Kit had been aware of the clock chiming when he left Mother Carey’s. He had not caught the hour, but he knew it was late, not perhaps midnight but certainly eleven. The streets were busy. Night soil carts and delivery drays headed out against the tide of incomers bringing goods from the countryside to the city. Men pushed barrows, horses and oxen strained against their harnesses. Lanterns flickering above doorways and on corners and torches carried by linkboys accompanying chairs, coaches, and pedestrians, made great leaping shadows in which anything could lurk. Kit walked quickly and with care. It was important to stay alert. Too many of his acquaintance had been robbed after such a night out. He kept to the broadest roads and had climbed most of Gracechurch Street before he was approached.

“Call you a chair, sir?”  The linkboy was a dirty scrap of a youth with bony wrists showing at the cuffs of his jacket. He bounded along at Kit’s side, torch bobbing.”Or I could light your way. Only a farthing, sir. I’ll see you right.”

Contemplating shoes soaked in horse piss or worse, Kit gave the boy a short nod. “I’m bound for close to Moorgate. If that is too far, best say now.”

“Ha’penny if you want me to take you past the Wall, sir.”

“Fair enough.” Kit agreed and placed the boy on the inside of the pavement. A half penny wasn’t cheap, but the light was welcome.

You can almost feel the grime and filth of the streets climbing up Kit’s boots.  Kit’s plain outfit is in direct contrast to his best friend, Tristan, a diamond if ever there was one.

“Ah, there you are!” Tristan set his three-cornered hat on his glossy curls and tucked his hand into Kit’s elbow. “Good man, good man. Dear Lord, as you love me, Kit, smaller strides.”

“If the shoes hurt why are you wearing them?” Kit asked, moderating his pace. “They make you walk like an old duchess with corns.”

Tristan snorted. “Fashion, dear boy. If one wants to do well at work it’s best to look as though one has no financial worries. As long as they all think I’m being very good at what I do on a whim, they’ll keep promoting me to try to pique my interest.”

“Bloody silly reason for promotion,” Kit growled, and Tristan gave his arm an affectionate squeeze.

“Maybe you should try it?” he suggested. “You look like a Quaker. That’s not going to give them any faith in your fighting spirit, now is it?”

Kit glanced at Tristan’s tightly curled wig, his exquisitely fitted coat, the riot of embroidery on his waistcoat, those ridiculous shoes whose heels brought Tristan up to equal Kit’s height. Kit own attire, mostly shades of sensible hard-wearing brown, including his own naturally curly hair, did look penny-pinched in comparison.

Before you realize it, you are walking shoulder to shoulder with Kit, taking the clothes, mannerisms and news of the day as commonplace as Kit finds them.  And it’s not just Gregory’s ability to make history come alive that pulls the reader into the story, it’s her characters and plot as well.

Every character you will meet in this book is as unique an individual as any I have met in real life.  Whether they be scoundrel like Captain Wells or loved, somewhat addled pirate Denny, all will be remembered after the story is done and most of them quite fondly too.  I love the complexities to each character.  Each pirate and each Naval officer have their own merits as well as seedy elements to their character.  Some are horrific, no matter which side of the law they are on.  And the of life of a sailor can switch from an easy berth to one of hardship and abuse depending upon the captain and crew.  Equally amazing is the ages that young men went to sea, as early as 8 or so.  It is all here, a even handed portrait of life on the sea, made all the more remarkable because it is a backdrop or foundation for both a love story and tale of adventure and not the focus of the story itself.

On The Lee Shore is not your typical love story.  Remember, during that age, it is not only dishonorable but a hanging offense to love other men. So it is not surprising that Kit pushes down his “unnatural” desires at the beginning, hiding them in furtive glances and nameless encounters.  But the pirates ways and expansive viewpoint, along with a certain Captain, starts to free Kit from his conventional notions and the reader is along every step of the way.  It is a realistic journey with nary a case of “instalove” in sight.  Kit and Griffin engage in a slow dance around each other, complicated by their stations aboard ship, Kit’s identity as a Naval officer as well as Griffin’s as a pirate.  There are other obstacles as well, but I will leave that joy of discovery to the reader.

Within this book, you will find fast paced action, breath taking adventure, piracy on the high seas, booming cannons and a future fraught with danger and pain as well as love.  Trust me, once you pick this book up, you won’t want to put it down.  I didn’t and once finished, wanted to start the journey all over again.

I had to look up the nautical term “lee shore”, and found that it meant a shore, towards which the wind is blowing, and to which there is the danger of being driven aground on shoals or reefs.  A lee shore is to be avoided, and yet Kit feels himself to be on a lee shore throughout most of the story, uncertain, sometimes adrift in his emotions and thoughts.  But Elin Gregory knows her craft and you can be sure she leaves her men sailing smoothly into fresh waters under clear skies, their future interesting as their times.  I really wish I could be there for the rest of their journey, but I am delighted with the tale I got.  You will be too.

Published By
Etopia Press
1643 Warwick Ave., #124
Warwick, RI 02889
http://www.etopia-press.net
On A Lee Shore
Copyright © 2012 by Elin Gregory
ISBN: 978-1-939194-44-2
Edited by Jennifer Fitzpatrick
Cover by Mina Carter is just outstanding and matches perfectly with the story within.