Independently Published (2021)
Reviewed by Cynthia Hammell for Reader Views (07/2021)
“Discerning Grace,” is the first novel in Emma Lombard’s, “White Sails” series. Young Grace Baxter is the daughter of Lord and Lady Flint. Without Grace’s consent, they have negotiated her engagement to the monstrous Lord Silverton. Grace knows her parents will not protect her against this loathsome and dangerous man, so she must escape. She borrows some men’s clothes from a childhood friend, cuts her hair, and flees disguised as a boy. She hears that the naval vessel, HMS Discerning, is leaving soon for Chile and Tierra del Fuego and needs hands. Grace joins the expedition as a recruit, hoping her disguise works, even though she has a brief acquaintance with Lieutenant Seamus Fitzwilliam who will be aboard. She is willing to take that chance in order to get thousands of miles from Silverton.
The setting and the behavior of the sailors are written realistically. Lombard somehow convinces the reader that Grace gets away with her disguise for about five months. Most sailors would not have imagined that a young lady would have the stamina for navy life. Lombard describes how Grace withstands its rigors. Grace is a strong female character who is brave and stubborn occasionally to the point of recklessness, but she is believable and sympathetic. The reader will be interested in her fate. Once her identity is discovered, it is too late to turn around. Lieutenant Fitzwilliam promises to protect her, partly in allegiance to her beloved uncle, Admiral Baxter, who once saved his life.
As to dialogue, there is one point in the relationship Fitzwilliam makes a statement that may not have even been considered at that period in time: “The narrowmindedness of the establishment in excluding women from the vote is a mistake in my opinion” (p. 121), however, most of the dialogue between the couple is convincing. They argue and she does not always understand his position, but they grow to admire, respect, and love each other.
The plot has plenty of action and suspense and has enough turns to exclude over-predictability. Overall, for readers who are interested in this period of British history, Lombard has written a satisfying romantic adventure.