SEA SPELL by Caroline Fox


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When Regency orphan Harriet Owen refuses to wed a young fop selected by her uncle, she's sent out on her own--so she heads for the wild north coast of France to dwell in a cottage near where her seafaring father's ship was fatally lured onto rocks by a French privateer. But Harriet's brooding-and-painting idyll turns sour when her landlord, the greasy Comte de l'Aquilon, threatens rape: she must flee, of course, dressed as a boy (of course), and she winds up rescued from drowning by a mysterious man in a sloop. Can this be the privateer responsible for her father's death? Can this be the lone, reckless sailor rumored to be more interested in men than women? Yes, yes--but Harriet (switching from britches to a chic Oriental gown) soon learns The Truth: her rescuer is the real Comte, a moody and virile Royalist who took to the sea when his parvenu wife began openly carrying on with estate-agent Mauboeuf (the would-be rapist whom Harriet mistook for the Comte). And it's not long before shipmates Harriet and Comte Louis find an intense love--which is almost consummated despite Louis' married state. Scruples conquer passion, however, and Louis--who has decided, at Harriet's urging, to re-assume his landlord responsbilities--finally returns her to dry land. And only after much agonizing on both sides (and a near-fatal storm) does Mrs. Louis conveniently die. A hackneyed scenario--and first-novelist Fox seems unsure of which Regency style she's after. The coastal gothicking is fine; the shipboard detail is damply convincing; and there are nicely tart touches here and there. But the Harriet-Louis romance becomes a pallid drone, with repetitious musings and Barbara Cartland dialogue (""Harriet. . . Harriet. . . Little mermaid, little lad from the sea, little shrimp--if you only knew how much I. . .""). So this is an uneven Regency debut (with rampant verbal anachronisms)--just-passable fare for genre loyalists, especially those partial to sea-going atmosphere.

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1980
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan