The Witch from the Sea is a thoroughly satisfying romantic tale, filled with swashbuckling pirates, plenty of atmosphere, and characters who come alive.
In 1623 Boston, orphaned Victoria McKenzie decides to run away from the Worthen Female Academy before she stifles. Daughter of a white father and an Indian mother, she is reviled by the good Christian people at Worthen. Tory decides to stow aboard a merchant ship bound for the Caribbean, dressed as a boy, and learn the seafaring trade.
All goes well until the ship is boarded by pirates. Tory gives the pirate leader, Captain Hart, information about their cargo rather than see him cut off the ears of a cabin boy. While this saves the cabin boy’s life, it earns her the lasting enmity of the merchantman’s captain and crew, and when the pirates depart, Tory goes with them.
Her disguise doesn’t last long. Tory is exposed as a female on the second day, and only her quick thinking saves her. She has information about planned attacks on pirate ships, information she’s overheard before boarding. A deal is struck. “Tory Lightfoot” will stay aboard, dressed as a boy and working where she can. In return, the men will leave her alone.
Ah, but Tory soon loses her young heart to a golden-haired pirate named Matty, a man she believes was destined to be her mate. Matty’s blinding good looks dazzle her, but her curiosity is piqued by the dark-haired Englishman, Jack, who becomes her mentor and friend. As Tory learns to survive on her own, she’ll have to decide where her heart truly lies.
The Witch from the Sea has plenty of action to keep the pace quick. Tory’s adventures carry her around the Caribbean as she adapts to the life of a pirate. The men aboard the Blessed Providence are richly-drawn. Most are simply men, not looking to murder but willing to accept it when it is necessary to their goal of acquiring bounty. Not that the author tries to make these men into heroes; far from it. But they are no cardboard villains, either.
Neither is the life of a pirate glamorized. Death and destruction are always just over the horizon, and Jensen doesn’t hesitate to pepper her tale with enough grittiness to make it feel real. Thieves, traitors, slaves, runaway noblemen, murderers, whores, and others all play a part. There is honor as well as deception, goodness as well as treachery. This necessary counterpoint brings the story to life.
The growing relationship between Jack and Tory proceeds slowly, but steadily. Each adventure brings them a bit closer together. Tory’s journey from infatuation to real love is sometimes painful to watch, but readers will find the outcome satisfying. The ending is open-ended as Tory and her pirate prepare for a new adventure together. If you like it, this is the first of a planned trilogy.
The Witch from the Sea succeeds where many have failed, spinning a highly entertaining, romantic, and quite believable tale of life on the high seas. It’s a solid debut from an author to watch.