From the blurb:
Mistress Cooksley may be a wealthy merchant’s daughter, but she blushes at my words and meets my eyes look for look. Yet I cannot hope to court her without fortune, and a dalliance with a pretty maid will not hinder me from my path.
Captain Drake’s endeavour might bring me gold, but I, Will Doonan, will have my revenge.
The Spaniards captured my brother and have likely tortured and killed him. For God and St George, we’ll strike at the dogs and see justice done.
I thought I’d left Mistress Cooksley behind to gamble everything and follow Drake, and here she is playing the boy at the ends of the world. She’s a fool with a heart as brave as any man’s. Yet her presence here could be the ruin of us all…
As much adventure book as romance, Mistress of the Sea still manages to keep the romance reader engaged as you follow the blossoming relationship between wealthy merchant’s daughter Ellyn Cooksley and master caulker Will Doonan. It’s a tale of swashbuckling adventure that brings in Spanish gold, privateers, escaped slaves and even the legendary Sir Frances Drake.
Set in 1570, Ellyn is a young woman mourning the loss of her brother and fending off the unwelcome advances of a pair of ‘suitable suitors’ – wealthy merchants who offer a good financial match, arranged by her father – when she falls for Will, her handsome, confident and rugged young neighbour; a man who is unsuitable due to both his lowly status and his reputation as an adventurer.
Will, in the meantime, is driven by two great passions: the need to get revenge on the Spanish for the betrayal that led to the capture and supposed murder of his brother, Kit, and also in acquiring as much Spanish treasure as he can. At first he courts Ellyn’s attention as a game, but soon he finds himself genuinely attracted to her, giving him an additional reason to seek wealth.
When Will persuades Ellyn’s father to fund Drake’s next voyage to the Americas, the old man insists on accompanying them. Ellyn, fearful for her father’s wellbeing and unhappy with the match that her father has made for her, disguises herself as a boy and stows away on board the ship. This starts a chain of events that leads to both adventure and romance.
Nothing in her upbringing had prepared her for the predicament she faced: the isolation and disorientation, and the relentless physical discomfort. Her original, rather nebulous plan had been to play the role of galley boy who might be accepted as useful before a joyous revelation. But the viciousness of the mariner had shattered that fantasy. She was ruled by terror: the dread of brutality should she be discovered, and the fear of condemnation should she make herself known – she could barely conceive of her father’s wrath on finding out she had stowed aboard the Swan.
Mistress of the Sea is a great book. Jenny Barden has done her research well to bring both the characters and their world to life. The story draws you in, even as it jumps from ship, to the Caribbean and back to 16th-century Plymouth. The characters are well-rounded and realistic – you never feel frustration that the leads are acting unrealistically, something that mars some romantic novels. The descriptive writing is excellent, whether describing domestic life in a merchant’s household or Drake’s bloody raid on Nombre de Dios; yet without the reader needing a degree in history to understand what is going on. Finally, the mix of romance and adventure is pitched so well that whichever attracts you most to this book, you do not feel disappointed.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. And I would highly recommend it if you are looking for something a bit different from your usual romance read.
Mistress of the Sea is available now from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.