“[She was a] long-legged lass with freckled skin, with fiery hair and a spirit to match. He had discovered her in the bosun’s locker, intent on Barbados where she hoped to inherit her father’s estate. Of course, there was nothing for her there. Ah, but he had lost his heart to her, not once but twice. And then she disappeared...”
Thus, the first chapter in this, the third of Collison’s Patricia MacPherson historical adventure series, reminds the reader of the beginning of a very strange saga. Back then, only semi-protected by the young man who had found her stowed away and “had lost his heart to her,” Patricia was forced by survive by her wits in a strange and exotic land. Obviously, her options were limited — she could prostitute herself, get married, or find a job, the last being almost impossible for a young woman who was hampered by her youth, her sex, and her total lack of qualifications.
The inevitable marriage of convenience led to yet another solution — her kindly husband, a ship’s surgeon, taught her enough of his medical skill for her to make a living after his death . . . but only if she takes on the guise of a man. And so Patricia MacPherson, girl-widow, metamorphosed into Patrick MacPherson, sea surgeon.
By the time this third book opens, Patrick/Patricia has progressed even further, to the command of a ship in the Caribbean sugar trade, and has become so masculine in thought and bearing that s/he often seems hermaphrodite. A re-encounter with a beautiful Creole woman who helped her transform herself in a male has tantalizingly Lesbian overtones. Added to that, when faced with a maritime crisis, Captain Patrick MacPherson rises to the challenge like an experienced master mariner. A very different crisis — delivering a baby by Caesarean section — is a stark reminder of the problems of being a woman. But then the reappearance of Brian Dalton — the same young man who saved her as a stowaway in the very first book — tips Patrick/Patricia back into feminine mode, with all the complications that thinking and feeling like a young woman brings to a “fellow” in her strange situation.
But this book is much more than a study of conflicting sexuality. The setting is 1765, when the American colonists are in a ferment, roused to rebellion by duties and taxes imposed by a rapacious English administration. Collison, who is as adept with the politics of the time as she is with details of life at sea, handles this very well indeed. Recommended to history buffs as an unusual, thought-provoking book that rings with authenticity.
Another triumph from Old Salt Press.