|I picked up The Captain, oddly enough, right after watching an excellent production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, about a sea captain and the woman who spurned him reconnecting after eight years. So I was in a fine mood on the subject of sea captains. Alas, this book dumped me right out of it.
Sixteen-year-old Andrew Morrow, son of a spendthrift, penniless baron, becomes betrothed to skinny, frail, twelve-ear-old Jacinda Blanchett much against his will. Andrew rebels and runs off to sea, eventually making his fortune in India. Jacinda witnesses her father’s murder, overhears the murderers planning to kill her as well, and disappears with her nurse, Trudy.
Eight years later, Andrew returns, wealthy and carrying plenty of guilt over abandoning his father. Before he can make his way back to his family home, Drew is captured by a press gang and thrown aboard a prison barge. He’s rescued by a teenaged lad named “Jack,” who has come to free her younger brother, Ben. Of course, “Jack” is really Jacinda, now caring for Trudy’s young nephew. Jacinda recognizes Drew and uses his gratitude to get a job on the Morrow estate. There, she hopes to find her father’s killer so she can reclaim her fortune.
The ruse doesn’t last long, and Drew soon discovers Jacinda’s disguise. Jacinda is now a willowy beauty, of course. In order to keep her safe, they’ll pretend to marry. But the threats continue. Who really killed Jacinda’s father, and who wants Jacinda dead?
The story depends heavily on contrivance, such as Drew being rescued by the very woman he spurned and is hoping to find. Then there’s Jacinda’s reasoning for living in a London slum and dressing like a boy, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. This is a young woman with a fortune at her disposal. Why isn’t she simply claiming her inheritance, then hiring several hulking servants and a host of Bow Street Runners to investigate the likely suspects in her father’s death?
Jacinda’s cousins and her aunt have been living at the Blanchett estate for eight years, though Mr. Blanchett is dead. Where is the money coming from, I wondered? Would Regency-era British banks allow shoestring relatives to draw from a dead man’s accounts? This isn’t explained, and since the cousins figure in the plot later, it smacks of contrivance as well.
The story unfolds in a flat, “telling” style in which the reader is constantly informed of the character’s thoughts and feelings, but the characters themselves rarely do any emoting at all. Jacinda and Drew have no chemistry whatsoever. He decides to honor the betrothal, then suddenly he’s in love. Didn’t work for me. As for Jacinda, she has some spunk, but her attraction to Drew felt like no more than a teenage crush, seeing as she’s never been courted by another male. I had a hard time understanding what she’d see in Drew, other than his manly figure, etc.
There are several side plots involving Drew’s scheming young stepmother and Jacinda’s snide cousins, and the murderer may surprise some readers. But the lack of a decent central romance, or a plausible storyline, dooms this book – no matter how earnestly the author explains what’s going on. The Captain steers off course from the start and never recovers.