The world may be at war, but science waits for no man! Europe is firmly engaged in the Seven Years’ War, which places the Kingdom of Great Britain directly against the Kingdom of France, but even as he sends his navies to conquer and protect the oceans, the King of England is also seeking to advance the minds and knowledge of his people. Sir Thomas, of the Royal Society, sends for young Henry Noble, an English naval officer recently returned from combat with a captured French ship and officer. Sir Thomas asks Henry to convey an astronomer to the Cape so that the man might record the transit of Venus, an event that happens every 243 years. The only difficulty that Sir Thomas is concerned about is that Henry might not wish to keep company with the astronomer, the Comte de St-Denys, Cristophe, who is the very officer Henry took prisoner.
The two men may be from warring kingdoms, but there is nothing but admiration for one another. Bonding over kittens, rose clippings, and garden design, the two spent a pleasant time on Henry’s ship while they returned to port, and Henry is delighted for a chance to get to continue his growing friendship with Christophe. For his part, the Frenchman is just as pleased to get away from the war for a time and turn his mind to the pleasant pursuit of science, and the even more pleasant company of Henry.
Henry is an affable young man who knows very well why he was given the Swan to captain. He was and is the friend and lover of Justinian, who is a Secretary in the Admiralty and quite influential. It doesn’t bother Henry that he found friendship with the man, or that he got a ship out of it. Justinian wouldn’t have given him the position if he didn’t have faith in him. Henry is a good captain, a good friend, and a fine officer, more than deserving of the opportunities handed to him. Even when pushed, Henry prefers mercy to justice, and given the chance to find love — a lasting, real love — he will grab for it with both hands.
Christophe isn’t an officer in the navy for power or wealth. His estates are well managed by his sister and he’s not hurting for comfort. But he’s loyal to his country and the chance to study the ocean currents and the stars, to see the world, and have a chance to do some good in it call to him. When he’s taken captive, he feels no anger or rage, just acceptance. And when he sees a chance to be more than a friend to Henry, he cannot help but delicately and gracefully extend an offer of something more than friendship.
To be honest, there’s not much meat on the bone, romantically speaking, with Henry and Christophe. They’re both noble, intelligent men who found one another in a time where they were forced to hide their sexuality, as well as having to overcome the English vs. French nature of their association. Because the book takes place over several years time, we see them in snippets and moments. Their relationship is romantic rather than dramatic, which is sometimes what you want. To see two people who are meant for one another come together and have that happy ending.
The true strength of this book is in the storytelling. The author manages to convey the feel of the old classics without making the writing too dense or formal, which might turn off some readers. While there is a great deal of ship talk and description, none of it feels showy; there’s no sense that we’re being read a text book on sailing as much as we’re invited to a story that takes place on a ship. And, much as I’d expect, the author fleshes out hallways and rooms with rigging, hammocks, cannons, and sea air. I enjoyed the writing, but — purely a personal matter — I would have preferred a bit less of a languid note to the pacing. The book feels slow and drifty, and when moments of excitement show up — like pirates or naval battles — that contemplative, indifferent air still lingers and I’m left watching the action rather than feeling it.
Even so, I greatly enjoyed this book. If you’re a fan of the Aubrey Maturin books or historical fiction and romances, do consider giving this book a read. The author has no other books at the moment, which is a shame. Considering just how good the atmosphere and writing were in this book, I’m really looking forward to seeing more from them.