The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage Of Equals by Jeannelle M. Ferreira is quite simply the best, most enjoyable lesbian Regency romance I have read so far. (And I’m something of a collector of the genre.)
Captain Nathaniel Flemming comes home from the battle of Waterloo traumatized by the war, struggling on a peacetime half-pay salary, and still carrying the secret held since the day of enlistment: that Nathaniel is actually Eleanor.
An invitation from Captain Flemming’s former commanding officer, Major Sherbourne, to stay at his estate becomes complicated when Sherbourne’s spinster sister Harriet and the captain find a tentative, prickly friendship turning into something much more.
Now Flemming must decide whether to risk her secret–and both of their reputations–on the chance that Harriet can love Eleanor as much as she does Nathaniel.
Heather: All the central characters are flawed, three-dimensional, but deeply engaging characters. Flemming and Sherbourne’s shared experiences in the war (told through flashbacks) are as much a part of the plot as the romance, and build up a believable motivation for their later actions, even while being true to the historic social mores of Regency England.
Harriet is much more than a simple love-object. She has her own secrets and hidden history. Ferreira made me believe in the characters’ actions and reflexes without resorting to jarring modernisms.
Sheena: I could see a bit of a mirror in Harriet and Nathaniel – both women wanting more from life and finding it in unexpected places.
I enjoyed the character development in this book. It felt believable and I totally agree with Heather, the motivations later on were absolutely spot on with what we knew about the characters.
The Writing Style
Heather: For me, the ideal writing style is one where I think back and have a hard time remembering specifics of the writing style. The prose was solid and well-paced. The dialogue felt realistic without being stilted or anachronistic. I could visualize the setting easily and felt completely immersed in the story. I particularly loved the complex, layered plot that kept the story moving on multiple levels.
Sheena: I am glad I listened to this one. I started the book but I am not a huge reader of regency romance and so the language was a little heavy for me. After about two chapters in the audiobook I was in the swing of it and fully able to enjoy the story.
I wouldn’t call this a con because it lends something beautiful to the story. I would say that it is worth the effort to keep going because this is one of the most awesome stories.
Sheena: Violet Dixon did an excellent job of narrating this book. The male voices sounded different enough that I could tell it was a male without having it be so odd that it pulled me out of the story.
Sure, she is American, but that didn’t bother me at all.
I would give this one two thumbs up for narration.
Heather: I have a hard time giving a coherent, objective explanation of what I loved about this book because it hit so many of my sweet spots so solidly I came out of it gasping for air.
I’m too used to having to make compromises in my book loves: either the writing will be mediocre, or the genre won’t be to my taste, or the plotting will be awkward, or the characters will feel like modern people in costume. I didn’t need to compromise my heart at all to love this book passionately.
Sheena: Everything about the audiobook. I loved the story and the narration brought that to life beautifully.
Heather: There’s nothing that I’d consider to rise to a “con”, but this is a convenient place to put a few content notes. There are a few, brief, tasteful erotic scenes. Don’t expect full-on sex scenes or entirely closed doors. (This isn’t a con because it’s very much what I prefer in books.)
There were a couple of dropped plot threads, though nothing major, and one scene that I think could have been cut as it felt tacked on and irrelevant to the plot. And I feel almost embarrassed to mention them at all because the book was overall so very good.
Sheena: My cons are not really cons that made any big difference to my enjoyment of the book. More like tiny little niggles. I am not a huge fan of the cover but I don’t hate it. I hope it helps the book sell.
There was a point in the story where it felt like the book had ended but when I looked I still had a couple of chapters to go. This was cool because the story continued but in some regards it felt a bit like an extra short story at the end and didn’t quite flow with the rest of it.
Once again though, nothing that really stopped my enjoyment of this book.
Heather: If you have the slightest interest in historical romance or in Regency novels in general, I give this book my highest recommendation. The Covert Captain is an example of what lesbian historical fiction can be at its best.
Sheena: Absolutely buy it. Get the audiobook if you like audio and if you are like me and not used to the language then keep going because the payoff is so worth it.
The story is adorable and worth every moment of your time. This is one of those audiobooks that left me feeling like I had lived another life and am richer for it.
Excerpt from The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage Of Equals by Jeannelle M. Ferreira
The horse had not bucked her. She was in the saddle, and she clutched at the depths of the warm grey mane for dear life while Fleming, silent and quick, placed his bare hand upon Harriet’s knee and calf, and gripped her ankle through the borrowed boot.
“Heels down, eyes up,” he said, and ducked under Malabar’s head to repeat the whole show upon Harriet’s right side. When he had done, he came and eyed her, very critically.
“Madam, do you lace?”
“I beg your pardon, sir! I do not, at three in the morning!” Harriet was near enough to kick him in the head, but she had a great fear of startling the horse. Fleming, unruffled, reached up for something out of her line of sight.
He touched the small of her back, just at the band of the threadbare breeches. A shock, a jolt, a shiver—
“But that is perfect,” said Fleming. “Why on earth did you sit there like a pudding? I thought I must borrow Sherry’s riding corset.”
Her back straight as a whalebone busk, and tingling, Harriet realized he had not meant to touch her at all; he might have touched the mare’s back, for all it troubled him.
“Is all well, madam?”
“All’s well,” she lied.
Fleming heard it. “Malabar will stand for Congreve rockets, if she must. I think she will stand for you. Should you care to walk, hold tight with your knees—get out of her mane! Hold my hand, if you like, and hold to the pommel with the other.”
“Hold your hand! Don’t be ridiculous, sir, who shall hold the horse?”
“You,” replied Fleming. “I’ve no need to pull upon her to make her walk. She will do that at your word, I think.”
Number thirty-nine’s door had a scar upon it from the corn-law riots. It had weathered to a wet gray against the black paint, and a crack chased its way from the gash in the wood to where the knocker would have been, if anyone who cared for fashion was at home. The stucco housefront was still near the same gray as the rest of the row, but pieces had started to fall round the windows, showing plain outmoded brick. Snow was heavy as fleece upon the stairs. If she mounted them, she would be wet to the shins on a moment.
Harriet took them clumsily indeed, but she gained the door. Then she drew a deep breath and could not knock.
When the door opened, Harriet shrieked and nearly tumbled into the street.
“I ought really to hang the knocker, but dash it to hell, I can’t find it.”
Fleming looked unslept, her hair loose and her frock-coat swinging open over an old cavalry coverall. She made half a pass at straightening up, and went into rather a sarcastic bow. “I passed you in the mews ten minutes since, madam, but you seemed intent on your affairs. You had better come in; I have cut toast enough, and the coffee is still hot.”
It was not the scene Harriet had pictured. She stepped over the threshold into the dimness, and it was not, either, how she had pictured that. The woman she had known as Nathaniel Fleming was not at her elbow—was, in fact, half down the corridor and indifferent—and Harriet herself was sharpish close to tears.
The downstairs parlour was bright, and the fire was good. A pair of high, hobnailed boots was steaming dry at the fender, and a cloak hung from the chimney-corner with rather a smell of wet horse. At the height of Harriet’s eye, upon the wall, a faded god chased a faded nymph; further on, one of them had changed into a column of cloud, or a tree. The black-and-white Holland tiles shifted and clicked a bit beneath Harriet’s feet, but the floor was shining clean.
“Pray you be seated, Lady Harriet.”
“Miss Fleming,” she replied, still standing; but she could not keep up the style. “Captain—Nathaniel—oh, God rot it,” Harriet said, “I do not even know your Christian name.”
“I think that is as well, madam.”
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Note: I received a free review copy of The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage Of Equals by Jeannelle M. Ferreira. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.