The Fourth Ship by Paula M. Trotter

The Fourth Ship

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A tale of love, intrigue, and nautical conspiracy set in 18th-century England.
John Smyth is in a bind. His family’s shipyard is in dire financial trouble after the death of his father, so he drops out of his university to help run it. As if that weren’t enough, he also finds himself falling for Lady Sideris Douglas, who’s already to be betrothed to another. In order to make the shipyard a profitable venture again, its trustees take out a loan using My Glorious C, a ship constructed in memory of John’s late mother, as collateral. When the ship disappears while on a trade run, John must use the titular “fourth ship” built under a naval contract—a collier that can travel in both rivers and oceans—to find it. After a logbook points him in the direction of the island of Norte Dominica, he and other men from the shipyard go on an exploratory mission there as cover to search for My Glorious C. Along the way, though, they uncover a conspiracy that goes much deeper than they could have ever imagined. With its intriguing plot, competent prose, and engaging characters, there’s much to recommend this story. It builds enough suspense to keep readers glued to the pages, and the romantic attraction between John and Lady Sideris is compelling enough for readers to root for them to overcome the obstacles in their way. However, the conspiracy that drives the plot is overly complicated to the point of confusion. It isn’t enough, for example, that John’s missing ship may lead to the loss of the shipyard; it’s also linked to insurance fraud, an inheritance scam, embezzlement, blackmail, and illegal trade. All these subjects may be fairly difficult for readers to understand, even with Trotter’s explanations. There’s so much going on, with so many people involved, that it becomes very hard to keep track without taking notes. Some readers may find themselves revisiting certain chapters in order to truly comprehend the story.
A romantic, entertaining novel, unfortunately plagued by complexity and confusion.
Program: Kirkus Indie
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