Essex, 1740: Young dairymaid Louise is wrenched from the work she loves to become a lady's maid at a well-to-do sea-merchant's house in Harwich. Lovesick lad Luke gets bludgeoned on the head and press-ganged on board a naval warship. When they are hauled away from the lives they know and hurled into strange, uncharted waters, it is sink or swim for both of them.
Looking back, one realises just how cunningly these two stories are entwined. For me, Louise's story was the more interesting but that may be because Luke's story is, for the main part, a bit "boy's own". The bustling port town of Harwich in the mid-18th century is quite brilliantly evoked and Kate Worsley is an impressive phrase-maker. Just three examples that particularly resonated:
"He had made them a plan. Had turned it over and over as she slept, like a pebble in his pocket, till it was smooth and perfect."
"The sea. A tiny spoonful between two steep hillsides."
"This was what I wanted now, to ride you like the ocean, to rig you and align you while the sheet billowed about our ears."
There is a degree of eroticism, deftly handled, and a gaspingly clever twist. Regrettably, though, both tales take a decided turn for the ludicrously unbelievable and, however compelling, they stretch the reader's credulity to breaking point. I was so sure this was going to be a 5* read right up until it became a 3.5 one.