I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book for what feels like forever, since I move in similar circles to the author, even if we’ve never met in person as far as I know. Then again British SF&F fandom’s not that huge a population, so it’s not that surprising how often our paths have almost crossed. Anyhow, from the moment I heard about this book’s premise, I knew I was going to have to read it. What’s not to love about a cross-dressing
pirate privateer heroine, who can’t seem to shake off the ghost of her dead husband (literally – this book may present an alternate history, but it’s refreshingly short of metaphors).
Ross Tremayne has captained her late husband’s ship for the past three years, holding the respect of her crew and striking fear into the hearts of those who oppose her, all the while passing herself off as the deceased William ‘Redbeard’ Tremayne to those outside her immediate circle. She’s also an untrained witch, who has avoided being registered with the proper authorities, possessing the power to call her ship to her when they’re parted and to control the wind and weather. Since running away to sea with Will seven years earlier, Ross has avoided dry land as much as possible – her powers are stronger and less controllable the farther from the ocean she finds herself – and has particularly shied away from returning home.
Now, however, Ross’ mother is dying and she must make one last visit to Plymouth. There she learns that her brother Philip – their mother’s favourite – has been killed in a duel, while Ross, as the firstborn, must carry on a family tradition and find a way to open a mysterious box passed down through the generations since Elizabethan times. If that wasn’t enough, Ross finds out she has a half-brother, David, the result of her mother’s liaison with one of their rowankind bond servants.
I love the rowankind. They aren’t a metaphor for slavery – the slave trade, along with the campaign for its abolition, are an ever-present force in the background of this story – but exist alongside humans and other beings, neither magical nor human, never seeming to complain (unless one really looks at them) and staying with a family for life in most cases. As Ross tries to figure out what to do with her inheritance – she can’t throw the box away, because it just comes back to her, and David seems caught between the worlds of rowankind and of magic-using humans – she starts to wonder just where the rowankind came from and whether they really are content with their lot.
Along the way, she finds time for a little romance – with Corwen, a shapechanger sent to watch over her in his wolf form as well as befriending her in his human form – not that Will’s ghost approves of Ross’ choice, and also discovers that her family is far more extensive than she ever imagined, having grown up with just her mother, father, and brother.
At times it felt like there was too much going on in this story for just one book. However, while the ending was satisfying, there is plenty of scope to explore all that we learned about this world, and all that has recently changed in it, in the sequel. I’m eagerly anticipating that now, although I may have to catch up with the author’s other series while I’m waiting.
It’s 1800. Mad King George is on the British throne, and Bonaparte is hammering at the door. Magic is strictly controlled by the Mysterium, but despite severe penalties, not all magic users have registered.
Ross Tremayne, widowed, cross-dressing privateer captain and unregistered witch, likes her life on the high seas, accompanied by a boatload of swashbuckling pirates and the possessive ghost of her late husband, Will. When she pays a bitter deathbed visit to her long-estranged mother she inherits a half brother she didn’t know about and a task she doesn’t want: open the magical winterwood box and right an ancient wrong—if she can.
Enter Corwen. He’s handsome, sexy, clever, and capable, and Ross doesn’t really like him; neither does Will’s ghost. Can he be trusted? Whose side is he on?
Unable to chart a course to her future until she’s unraveled the mysteries of the past, she has to evade a ruthless government agent who fights magic with darker magic, torture, and murder; and brave the hitherto hidden Fae. Only then can she hope to open the magical winterwood box and right her ancestor’s wrongdoing. Unfortunately, success may prove fatal to both Ross and her new brother, and desastrous for the country. By righting a wrong, is Ross going to unleash a terrible evil? Is her enemy the real hero and Ross the villain?
Read an excerpt.