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.
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.
The Writing Style
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.
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
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.
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.
Excerpt from The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage Of Equals by Jeannelle M. Ferreira
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.