Why I read it: This one was recommended to me by my friend Merrian. I bought it a while ago. My experience with Doing No Harm recently was so positive, I wasn’t ready to let the vibe go, so I dug this one out of Mt. TBR.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Ever since her father tried to sell her as a mistress to the highest bidder, Eleanor Massie has chosen to live in poverty. Her world changes overnight when Captain Oliver Worthy shows up at her struggling inn. Despite herself, Nana is drawn to her handsome guest….Oliver planned to stay in Plymouth only long enough to report back to Lord Ratliffe–about Nana. But he soon senses that Lord Ratliffe is up to something, and Oliver will do anything to keep this courageous, beautiful woman safe–even marry her!
What worked for me (and what didn’t): Marrying the Captain was my third Carla Kelly book. It was different to my first two experiences in two major ways. First, it took me a little time to get into. Partly that was because I had trouble getting my head around the heroine’s name being “Nana”. Yes, I know that it was a not-uncommon name in that place in that time but I had an actual Nana and I struggle to see her as a romance heroine (besides, she was only ever old when I knew her and terribly overweight as well so nothing like Nana Massie who was thin due to lack of food at the start of the book.) But it was not just the heroine’s name. I can’t really say what it was exactly, but it wasn’t until I was about a third the way in that I settled into the rhythm of the story whereas, I found the previous two Kelly books were instantly immersive.
The other main difference was there was sex! It wasn’t terribly explicit but it was definitely not kisses as had been the case in Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand and Doing No Harm. It was a nice surprise actually. I wasn’t expecting it, didn’t require it, but I’m glad it was there because I felt it did add to the story (and perhaps that was why it was there). Kelly’s writing reminds me, in many ways, of Mary Balogh’s and this may also explain why I like it so much. I particularly noticed it in the sex scenes because there was a kind of practicality about them. They were only slightly romance-novel heightened: while they were romantic and intimate, they did not gild the lily all that much. I was also reminded of Balogh in Kelly’s inclusion of practical matters such as needing to use the chamber pot and vomiting in the daisies. Ultimately I found the story more romantic because of these things.
As a hero-centric reader, another thing I have appreciated about Kelly’s books (to date) is that a significant proportion of them are told from the hero’s POV. I thought there was a distinct difference between the narrative from Oliver’s perspective and the narrative from Nana’s; the characterisation was so good. While I liked both main characters, I admit to being partial to Oliver. I liked his bravery and kindness and his manner with the sailors and other officers who served with him. Kindness is becoming sexier the older I get I think.
Oliver and Nana fell in love rather quickly and I admit to having to suspend my disbelief a little in that regard – actually, come to think of it now, that’s is another difference between this one and the other books of Kelly’s I’ve read. The romance was a slow build in the other two but there was only a little time here for Nana and Oliver to get to know one another. I expect that had an impact on my overall enjoyment of the story too. As much as I liked it, instalove is generally a hard sell for me. It was made more complicated by Oliver being very much a man of steady character and he had, prior to meeting Nana, no intention of ever getting married. He lives a precarious life, as a naval captain in a time of war; he has too often had to write to widows of other sailors who have died and too often witnessed the grief of the families as he arrives back on shore only to tell them their loved one has died elsewhere. He does not want to inflict that kind of grief upon a woman and has determined not to wed. Nana is very attractive and Oliver is a little starstruck when they meet, but still, he changed his mind fairly fast, all things considered. (Also, even though he kept saying to himself that he would not marry and things could not be between them, the title of the book gave me a big clue as to what would happen so I did chuckle a bit at Oliver’s self-delusion too because I am nothing if not contrary.)
There are very few members of the nobility in Marrying the Captain and I very much liked the exploration of non-aristocratic characters. And I found the description of Portsmouth during the war with the French (the book is set in 1808) fascinating as well.
What else? The book ends before the end of the war and Oliver is still regularly heading out into dangerous waters, so, while there is a HEA, I’d have liked a glimpse into the future to see that he made it through the war. Even so, both Oliver and Nana count the potential cost and consider it worthwhile. They would rather be together for as long as they can be than not be together at all. There was something very romantic and poignant about this. War is such a constant in this book that a potential tragedy was a very real possibility and their thoughts about it are very serious. In the end I thought it was very brave of them to take a chance.
Her face had not been out of his thoughts for longer than a five-minute stretch since he met her. If he died tomorrow or fifty years from now, her name would be on his lips as a last sacrament.