Book review: Emma Lombard, Discerning Grace

Discerning Grace

(Book One of The White Sails Series)

By Emma Lombard

As the first full-length novel in The White Sails Series, DISCERNING GRACE captures the spirit of an independent woman whose feminine lens blows the ordered patriarchal decks of a 19th century tall ship to smithereens.

Wilful Grace Baxter, will not marry old Lord Silverton with his salivary incontinence and dead-mouse stink. Discovering she is a pawn in an arrangement between slobbery Silverton and her calculating father, Grace is devastated when Silverton reveals his true callous nature.

Refusing this fate, Grace resolves to stow away. Heading to the docks, disguised as a lad to ease her escape, she encounters smooth-talking naval recruiter, Gilly, who lures her aboard HMS Discerning with promises of freedom and exploration in South America.

When Grace’s big mouth lands her bare-bottomed over a cannon for insubordination, her identity is exposed. The captain wants her back in London but his orders, to chart the icy archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, forbid it. Lieutenant Seamus Fitzwilliam gallantly offers to take Grace off the fretting captain’s hands by placing her under his protection.

Grace must now win over the crew she betrayed with her secret, while managing her feelings towards her taciturn protector, whose obstinate chivalry stifles her new-found independence. But when Grace disregards Lieutenant Fitzwilliam’s warnings about the dangers of the unexplored archipelago, it costs a friend his life and she realises she is not as free as she believes.

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I’ve seen so much about this book over the last few months on social media, I was really looking forward to reading it – and I wasn’t disappointed. Grace Baxter is a fabulous character, and I immediately felt for her, when she discovered her potential fate with Lord Silverton, one of the vilest characters I’ve ever come across. I think most of us would run away to sea faced with him as a husband…

Once on board the Discerning, seeing ‘Billy’ settle into life at sea was an interesting read; Grace is certainly not shy of hard work, and could handle a weapon as well as most of the men, once she’s given a bit of training by her new colleagues. Seeing true friendships form between ‘her’ and the likes of Jim and Gilly was lovely, especially when those friendships were tried when her true identity was spectacularly revealed. It’s understandable there was a lot of mistrust after that; there’s the old superstition about having a woman at sea after all, and of course, not all crewman warmed to her presence.

From the first chapter of Grace’s tale, I was caught up in the world of the 1820s, and really enjoyed the scenes at sea – I do love reading about different locations, after all. My experience of tall ships and the world of the Royal Navy at that time is limited to having visited Hartlepool Historic Quay, but the descriptions really conjured up the world of the sailor, with conditions at sea given to us in all their ‘glorious’ detail. We are at Grace’s side when she is assigned her hammock, and as she gradually develops a physical strength to match that of her character, with no choice but to become skilled at the tasks she is given. I also liked the way that attraction grew between her and Seamus, both wrestling with wider implications of her actions.

This truly was a fabulous read, well-paced, with plenty of action, as well as genuine heartbreak at moments, and I highly recommend it.

About Emma

Emma Lombard was born in Pontefract in the UK. She grew up in Africa—calling Zimbabwe and South Africa home for a few years—before finally settling in Brisbane Australia, and raising four boys. Before she started writing historical fiction, she was a freelance editor in the corporate world, which was definitely not half as exciting as writing rollicking romantic adventures. Her characters are fearless seafarers, even though in real life Emma gets disastrously sea sick. Discerning Grace, is the first book in The White Sails Series.

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