Fired up by Linda Collison's announcement that she has sold the sequel to Star-Crossed to Fireship Press, I sallied out and got hold of the first book in what (hopefully) will be a long series.
Linda, it seems, was badly guided ("star-crossed," perhaps?) when she set out to sell her first maritime historical novel. As she confesses in an interview with David Hayes, the book just happened to be written from the point of view of a young woman of the mid-eighteenth century -- but it was an accident that presaged the fate of this book.
The young woman was teenaged Patricia Kelley, who was desperate to get to the West Indies, convinced that her recently deceased father had left her the plantation he had always promised. Without money or other means, she chose the desperate measure of arriving on board a merchant ship bound for the Caribbean in the company of a boatload of prostitutes, then escaping into a crevice in the hold, to stow away for the voyage.
Of course, she is discovered, mid-passage, but is fortunate enough to be kindly treated by the captain, the captain's wife, and the ship's surgeon -- and a young seaman, Brian Dalton. Because of this, she arrives safely at her destination -- to find nothing but disappointment and disillusionment, so that she is forced to live on her wits, and survive by whatever means she can find.
Quite an adult theme, actually. But Linda Collison was advised to focus on the YA market. "Because my protagonist is a teenager my erstwhile agent thought the young adult market was the way to go," she says.
At first, the idea looked promising. That agent sold the novel to Knopf, and it was published with that market in mind. Bad choice, it seems, as it didn't sell well enough for the publisher to be interested in a sequel -- though, in my candid opinion, the truly awful fake-Romantic jacket could have had something to do with its muted reception.
So my first question when I read this book was whether the agent and publisher had blundered.
Again in my candid opinion, I think so. The book is certainly a page-turner, in recommended YA style, and there are the usual thought-provoking themes. Toward the end, when Patricia faces the fate that she has chosen -- the life of a cross-dressed woman on a ship of war -- she meditates:
I had said I could never be an ordinary woman but it occurred to me there were no ordinary women, or ordinary men. We're all extraordinary. And no matter what else it was, life was rich in possibilities.
Rich in possibilities indeed, if a young woman is brave enough to don men's clothing, and take up the life of a surgeon's mate on a frigate during the Seven Years' War. Just the kind of theme that English teachers delight in, when they want to engage a classroom full of teenagers. It didn't take long, however, before I decided that the story and lightly but accurately depicted background are interesting, accurate, and entertaining enough to entice a much broader audience.
This is what Linda Collison and her new publishers, Fireship Press, are banking on, with the release of a sequel, Surgeon's Mate.
Again in my candid opinion, I think they are onto a good thing. I thoroughly enjoyed Star-Crossed, and look forward to reading Patricia's further adventures -- and with a much more attractive and enticing jacket, this time.
Read the review by Alaric Bond here.