Have you ever heard of Saint-Malo in France? Ah guys, it’s one of my favorite places! Saint-Malo is the Corsair Town. It’s a lair protected by fortifications and a coast spiked with reefs and breakers; it’s a bay that is a jewel of the Emerald Coast, a point from which the corsairs spread on the oceans to lead a war of their own. It’s a testimony of the past, a door to the open sea, an invitation to travel, whether it is for real or in your head, to dream of scoundrels with tanned faces and cheeky grins. It’s a place where you can stand halfway between earth and sea, halfway between history and an Errol Flynn movie.
Annnd….Saint-Malo is absolutely not mentioned in this story that is absolutely not about corsairs.
The only reason for which I went off at this tangent (besides the fact that I tend to frequently go off on a tangent), is that this halfway state is exactly how I felt while reading this book. “On a Lee Shore” is a mix of historical authenticity and romantic fantasy.
Sails catch the wind and flap, ropes creak, decks lift and plunge, a skilled navigator and a brand new octant are prized possessions on a ship that is shaped from hold to mast until it becomes solid and alive, quivering and heaving. It’s the Africa, Kit’s beauty, a character in her own right, and you’re on board for a travel in time as well as a trip in the Caribbean. It’s more than a setting; it’s a tale about sailing, about ships, about Kit’s love for the open sea and for his job.
Also, a captain who is all charm and honor behind his scruffy beard, and definitely more gentleman thief than blood-thirsty barbarian (a corsair if you ask me), big-hearted pirates who give sentimental advice, back-stabbing villains and not a shadow of grey area; you stepped in movie-like adventures with hellish storms, naval battles and boardings, and a romance with an uptight Kit who struggles not to give in to piracy and to his Griff. As a side note, I found it ironic that he could be hanged for both.
This back-and-forth between authenticity and fantasy works very well for the most part; “On a Lee Shore” is a very enjoyable read. It has its drawbacks though. I loved that a great part of this story is about navigation, and I loved the Africa; I’m appreciative of the great care that Elin Gregory put in her story. But damn! She also took her sweet time to set it, and my attention began to sway and wander before I was halfway through the trip, which thankfully didn’t last. The story found its breath mid-course, gripped my attention back and flew smoothly until the end.
The romance is more a sub plot in Kit’s story arc than the main focus of the novel, but I didn’t mind that. I did mind however the rushed HEA, and I wonder if it’s a problem of balance … Kit, who definitely belongs to historical authenticity, is fully fleshed out, while Griff, who belongs to the fantasy side, remains a foil, which results in a romance that is sweet but skated over, with inconvenient plot holes in dire need of hasty padding and an intriguing character who leaves you wanting more. It doesn’t ruin the book, but it is disappointing in such a polished tale.
To sum it up, “On a Lee Shore” is a great historical, a little bit slow in the beginning but making it up afterwards, and all in all very entertaining. It’s also the story of a man who learns to be happy and free. Recommended if you don’t mind the romance being in the backseat.