From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Captain Frederick Wentworth: bold, self-confident, and passionate. At fifteen, I thought him boring, far preferring Mr. Darcy’s distant, sophisticated persona. Now at twenty-five, I find that Wentworth, Jane Austen’s final hero, has captured my attention. As I sit here and type this, I ask myself ‘What’s changed?’ For one, Wentworth has energy–vibrancy–that leaps off every page. There is no brooding silence or long caution with him. A man of action, he strides through life with a joie de vivre and a strong sense of compassion for those he encounters. Now that I look at this list, I wonder at my ability to ignore this very worthy hero for years! Before I crack open my copy of Persuasion for a re-read, let me introduce you to a novel starring Captain Wentworth’s equal in character and bravery. In Georgana’s Secret, Arlem Hawks’ debut Regency novel, readers meet a hero and heroine bound irrevocably to each other and the sea’s mercurial waves.
Dominic Payton loves the ocean. It is his life, career, and passion. Despite his mother’s growing pressure to look for a wife, he knows that few women would be willing to live an unconventional, often dangerous life on a Navy frigate. To care for his single mother–and because life isn’t worth living away from the sea–Dominic accepts a promotion to become HMS Deborah’s newest lieutenant. Under the guarded eye of Captain Woodall, Dominic begins to prove his knowledge and skill. Yet it is the role of friend that quickly becomes the most challenging; George Taylor, Captain Woodall’s skittish young cabin boy, is greatly in need of a confidante…and pugilistic mentor.
Georgana Woodhull has a secret. Three years ago she vanished from Society and her abusive grandmother’s power. While Society at large believes her to be locked within the shadows of her ancestral home, she instead treads the boards of the HMS Deborah as a lowly, stoop-shouldered cabin boy for her father. The dark humor at her situation hasn’t escaped her–before her mother’s death three years prior, the sea ruled her dreams. It was a wild freedom that ever called to her. Now, all she longs for is a fresh start on land.
“George stopped before she got to their things and cocked her head. “You said that was the second-best way to enjoy the sea. What is the best?”
Dominic pocketed the sea glass and caught up his shoes. “Standing on the bowsprit of a frigate in the open ocean.”
George frowned. “In the middle of a gale?”
His lips twitched at her exasperation, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” (Loc 1719)
After the carefree and kind Dominic Payton defends her from a bully and then forces her to learn the best way to throw a punch, Georgana discovers that the sea can bring more than disaster: it can bring love. For his part, Dominic finds the mysterious George baffling. Just as his own search to find out George’s real identity reveals the shocking truth, danger arrives on board in the form of mutiny and enemy ships. As they navigate their newfound love and the challenges of battle, will they survive unscathed, if at all?
From its gorgeous cover to its poetic descriptions of nature, Georgana’s Secret is a beautiful addition to the Regency genre. Yet this novel contains more layers than simply being a work of art. Its snappy dialogue and unpredictable storyline lend something new and fresh to the Twelfth Night trope of a woman disguised as a man, as well as the age-old struggle between heart and dreams. Our heroine leans heavily towards pragmatism and our hero towards lively optimism, and the unique push/pull of their romance was one that I enjoyed immensely. The way in which this story was resolved was both devastatingly romantic and intensely practical. Not to mention humorous!
The only thing that I wish was handled differently was Georgana’s cruel grandmother. The scenes with her verbal and physical abuse–though few and far between–are potent and dark. By the end of the novel, I couldn’t decide if she was meant to be Georgana’s over-dramatic impetus for change or a frighteningly realistic example of an abuser. Because I know that it takes victims extreme courage to face their abusers, I wish there was more resolution for Georgana in this area, both to show her own bravery and to help inspire readers.
With its stirring romance and powerful vision of life at sea in the Regency-era, Georgana’s Secret hits all the marks for a five-star read. Yet it is Hawks’ attention to the small details–a lace headband, a name mentioned offhandedly in a letter, the feel and sound of a ship in battle–that steers readers into deeper waters, giving them the feeling of being immersed in a fully crafted, vividly realistic world. Don’t miss this captivating read in this January season of snowed-in days and new beginnings!
5 out of 5 Stars
- Georgana’s Secret: (Proper Romance Regency), by Arlem Hawks
- Shadow Mountain Publishing (January 12, 2021)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (320) pages
- ISBN: 978-1629727929
- Genre: Regency Romance, Historical Romance, Inspirational Fiction
We received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Shadow Mountain Publishing © 2021; text Katie Patchell © 2021, austenprose.com.