Friday, June 28, 2013

She Rises by Kate Worsley

Title: She Rises
Author: Kate Worsley

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / British / Nautical / British Navy / Lady's Maid / LGBT / Cross-Dressing / Romance)
Publisher/Publication Date: Bloomsbury USA (6/18/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay to liked.
Did I finish?: I did, with great effort.
One-sentence summary: A country milkmaid becomes a ladies maid in 18th century Harwich and a teenage boy is press ganged into the British Navy.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore the cover -- just stunning.

I'm reminded of...: Sarah Waters, Jack Wolf

First line: It's the singing that wakes him.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you like Sarah Waters-esque historicals and sinuous, snakey writing.

Why did I get this book?: Queering history is always good in my book! (No pun intended.)

Review: I'm sort of stunned I'm not in swoons over this book because it really seems like the type I would go ga-ga for: the author was mentored by Sarah Waters, writes in very lyrical, literary style, and tackles her characters in an unusual manner. And yet -- I wasn't wild for this book.  (It was good but not a favorite for this year.)

Set in 1740, the novel follows Louise -- a farm girl warned off sailors due to the dangerous allure of the sea, who ends up in Harwich, acting as a lady's maid to the daughter of a sea captain -- and Luke, a teenaged boy press ganged into His Majesty's Navy.  Both face unimaginable hardships (although Luke's experiences are so particularly horrifying, I am once again grateful for child protection laws, reform of military, etc.) in pursuit of happiness and freedom.

The chapters alternate between Louise, first person, past tense, directed at 'you', and Luke, third person, present tense. Worsley's style reminded me very much of Sarah Waters, who was her mentor; the narrative is cool, aloof, a little obfuscated, well wrought, and smart. 

In dual narratives, I almost always find myself drawn more to one character, and in this case, I was more interested in Louise's story. Partially it's one I'm familiar with -- girl falls for girl -- and I like novels about women in service. Unlike some readers, I didn't find Louise's infatuation with her mistress to be improbable, despite the sort one-dimensionality to the women and in many ways, the stilted 'courtship' felt very historically authentic.

The pacing of the novel is very deliberate, slow, although there are moments of high action.  It's obvious that Louise's and Luke's paths will cross and the tension is in learning how; I was surprised when the moment came how things turned out, and it made what happened earlier a little more clear.  (I will admit I struggled the first 100-or-so pages to get into the story.)

There's some stomach-turning violence in this one, especially toward women. (There's a throwaway comment by a character early on about he and fellow sailors essentially raped a woman to death. I had to put the book down, it was so upsetting.) That these attitudes reflect a historical reality makes it all the more distressing, and certainly takes some of the gloss off Georgian romances I'm so fond of. (I love Austen's Captain Wentworth and in my head, he's a different sailor than these men. Please.)  There's nothing openly gory, which makes, perhaps, the violence all the more chilling, but be warned: this isn't a sweet Austen-era romance, queer or otherwise!

Unexpected and surprising, this book might be the winner for one that's made me most uncomfortable in 2013.  (Actually, I think it ties with Jack Wolf's The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones for most disturbing.)  Those who love literary fiction with queer themes will enjoy this as well as those who are sticklers about historical grimness. 

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of She Rises to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 7/12.


  1. Ugh. In the winter I can deal with slow pacing but not in the summer. That would bother me and the throwaway rape comment would make me ill for sure.

    I do agree that the cover is very striking. I've seen it around and had no clue what it was about until your review.

    1. I was even going to say in my review this felt like a wintry novel, but then I thought that would be weird! But it really is suited for cool nights, snuggling with a blanket.

      I want a print of the cover.

  2. I'm so tempted by the fact that she was mentored by Sarah Waters (and that cover!), but the duAl narrative thing is ON MY LAST NERVE. Far too many books swing that way nowadays, in my humble but outspoken opinion. I'm over it.

    But that cover...

    1. I would have screamed if it was modern/historical dual narrative (that one I am SO OVER) but in this case, it worked and didn't make me want to skip every other chapter. If you like Sarah Waters, consider this one because, well, it is very Sarah Waters-y!

  3. I adore the cover too but I'm not interested in a book that you have to work to finish.

  4. I've been hearing quite a few people saying that they thought they would like this more than they did. Hmmm.

  5. That comment from the sailors was something I came across in another book and it was completely horrifying ...

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.

  6. I can't take reading about rape. It's hard to avoid in historical fiction (or faux historical fantasy stuff like Game of Thrones), especially anything medieval, but I just HATE IT. I always did, of course, but since I had daughters, violence against women terrifies/horrifies me even more than it used to. For example, I loved The Lovely Bones and have read it multiple times, but I don't know that I can take it now that I have daughters.

    I love grim historicals, though. So hmm.

  7. I think I would have liked this one much more had it been edited down another fifty or so pages. So, so much about the politics of the ship and about the wanderings on the island. Definitely shows the potential of the author and I appreciated reading something utterly different.

  8. Sounds a difficult book to get through but not bad. I've read some less positive reviews, like yours, so I'm not surprised per se, but it does sound the sort of book you'd think would be very good.