I have been a big fan of Donna Thorland since reading "The Turncoat", but this book surpasses it. That may be partially because I'm especially fond of stories involving ships, sailing, and pirates. However this book has one of the best opening sentences I've ever come across: "The gold was Spanish, the chest was French, the ship was American, and the captain was dead". It sets the scene for high-stakes adventure, as the American heroine, Sarah, and her little brother, whose father was once a notorious pirate, get captured by the British Navy while on a smuggling run. With the help of a loyal crew, they manage to turn the tables on the Navy captain, James Sparhawk, who happens to be the hero of the book.
What I love most about Thorland's heroines is not just that they are strong, but they have so much agency. Yes, she's very attracted to the hero, but she's got a lot going on besides that. She's thinking of her future economic security, for herself, her little brother and her aging father, her former fiance is now her worst enemy, and the American Revolution is just starting to heat up, with people choosing sides. So she can't afford to just throw everything over for love, or lust.
The hero has a lot going on too, with his long-term plan of revenge against his father, another British naval officer, who abandoned him and his mother when he was a child. In fact, as we find out much later, Starhawk isn't even his real name.
So it's a complex plot, with lots of politics, double-dealing, conflicting loyalties, and secondary characters with their own agendas. It's very fast-paced; either Starhawk, Sarah, or someone else is almost constantly in danger. Sometimes there will be a few pages of quiet conversation or interaction, and then it's back to action! I guess that's true to life, since after all, there's a war going on. I had to force myself not to pick up the book late in the evening, because once you start reading it's almost impossible to put it down.
I absolutely loved Sarah's family: her rascally father, his loyal sailing master Mr. Cheap, her and her two brothers, formed a tight unit, unswervingly loyal to each other. I loved the nuanced depictions of the characters, notably the relationship between Sarah's older brother and his lover, another ship captain. Their dilemma was sad and poignant. I loved the way Sparhawk and Sarah remained as loyal as they could to each other, even as their life choices seem to force them apart.
And I loved the nautical slang and metaphors scattered through the book. For instance, when someone is shot in the stomach, Mr. Cheap calls it "holed beneath the water line". The historical flavor of the language, and the descriptions of everything from the houses to the food and clothing seemed impeccable to me.
A thrilling 5 star read!