Book Review: She Rises

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British writer Kate Worsley. Photo / Supplied
British writer Kate Worsley. Photo / Supplied

She Rises by Kate Worsley
(Bloomsbury $35)

For those readers eagerly anticipating the next effort from Sarah Waters, the queen of historical revisionism, look no further than Kate Worsley's debut novel.

Her maritime adventure She Rises will tide you over nicely. The year is 1740 and young Louise Fletcher leaves the humdrum routine of an Essex farm for the hustle and bustle of the naval port of Harwich, swapping her life as a dairymaid for service in a wealthy captain's townhouse.

Louise has been raised on her landlocked mother's cautionary tales of the allure of the sea - both Louise's father and brother abandoned their womenfolk for adventure on the choppy waves.

"Men always leave," her mother warns, "and the sea never gives them up, once she's got them."

Louise's new mistress is like nobody she has ever met. The widowed captain's beautiful daughter, Rebecca Handley, is untutored in womanly ways, doesn't know how to manage a household, number linen, keep track of the wine cellar, or even get a stain out of fine cambric.

One minute she plays the respectable young lady, the next her coarse language rivals that of the port's liveliest tars. Louise is captivated and confused, and so begins a merry dance between mistress and maid that ends in an unconventional arrangement. As the closeness between the two women deepens, Louise discovers something locked away inside of her, "like treasure in a chest", that eventually throws the life they've made together into disarray.

Harwich, however, is a dangerous place for a young boy. After a night drinking in one of the town's taverns, 15-year-old Luke wakes in the bowels of the warship Essex to find that he's been beaten and pressganged into "His Majesty's damned whore-son Navy".

An "elver amongst pikes", haunted by the memories of the life he left behind, young Luke soon realises that life at sea is all about survival. Despite the brutal hardships on board a warship, soon he's "slipped his mooring, can scarce remember what it is to feel anchored", and answers to a new mistress: "She has him now, the sea".

Each navigating their own choppy waters, Luke and Louise are on a collision course that is meticulously and elegantly plotted from the very first page. The moment of their meeting, when it arrives, is jawdroppingly good. Packed with smugglers and secret passages, rum-toting sailors, romance and adventures in exotic parts, She Rises sings to its reader with the dulcet, hypnotising tones of its true heroine, the sea; luring you in, then lulling you into its rolling pace.


- Independent

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