What a treat this delight of a novel was to read.
So much, well, bigger than I imagined it would be. It tells the story of a young orphan, separated from her only sibling when he is captured by a press gang and she is left alone to fend for herself on the mean streets of 18th century London.
Trying to make a crust for herself at the tender age of perhaps 4 or 5 years of age it’s hardly surprising she soon comes a cropper, but fortunately the gent she tries to rob becomes her saviour, taking her to an orphanage where she is named after said gentleman, given the name of Dawnay after his surname and she is provided with a roof over her head and scant victuals.
It soon becomes apparent that young Dawnay has a somewhat exceptional mind as she sets out to educate herself, learning her letters by candlelight in the dead of night.
Unconventional to say the least, she absorbs knowledge like a sponge, is helped in her education by the Matron of the orphanage home and as she grows manages to win the approval of another elderly gent who becomes her guardian and benefactor helping her realise her ambition to be educated in science.
It becomes her burning ambition to travel, not just for travels sake but to explore ancient civilizations, discover the secrets of the past even though defying convention in her blasphemous thoughts, if what she believes in is true, then God cannot possibly exist.
Her benefactor helps her get a place on board a ship traveling to Portugal where she lives a hermit like existence on a small island, discovers wondrous historical artefacts and makes a few unlikely friends, Disaster strikes in the form of a cataclysmic earthquake and event she miraculously escapes from relatively unscathed. Perhaps the God she fails to put her trust in looked after her after all?
Dawnays whole life is extremely unorthodox which is what makes her such a quirky and fascinating character. I didn’t always completely understand or agree with her motivations but she never failed to entertain me and kept me glued to every page.
What I thought might be a rags to riches orphan makes good saga, proved to be anything but, it’s a clever and intriguing look at the difficulties of being a woman in the 1700s with a bright and enquiring mind and an unorthodox upbringing. The story encompasses scientific research, paleontology, a lot of time is spent on board ship so there is quite a bit about naval life, natural disasters are covered in immense detail yet throughout is the ongoing search of a lonely child for love and friendship and the myths and legends surrounding the ethereal existence of mermaids.
Enchanting storyline, beguiling characters and exceptionally competent writing combine to make this book, one you don’t want to miss.
I seldom say this as I don’t usually like sequels but this book left me aching to know what happens after the book finishes.
Song of the sea maid is available in paperback from 11th February 2016 and is quality historical romantic fiction at its absolute best.
My thanks go to Bookbridgr and the publisher Hodder and Stuoghton for my advance copy to review.
In an era where women rarely travel alone, especially for scientific study, Dawnay sets sail aboard The Prospect to the beautiful Iberian Peninsula. Amid rumours of mermaids in the sparkling waters, she makes some unexpected discoveries, including what it means to fall in love.
Having fought hard against convention, Dawnay is determined to put her career above all else. Yet as war approaches she finds herself divided by feelings she cannot control.
Told in Dawnay's words, from the author of THE VISITORS, this is an unforgettable story about what it takes to achieve your dreams, even when they seem impossible.