She Rises by Kate Worsley

She Rises She Rises begins in 1740 when Louise Fletcher, a young dairymaid from Essex, is offered a position as lady’s maid in a sea captain’s house in Harwich. Louise has never been more than a few miles away from home, so arriving at the Handleys’ prosperous household in the busy port town is like entering a different world. As Louise settles into her new job and gets to know her selfish, spoiled young mistress Rebecca Handley, she also decides to see if she can find out what happened to her brother, Luke, who went away to sea and has never been seen or heard from again.

In the other main thread of the story we learn how Luke was pressed into the Royal Navy from a tavern in Harwich and found himself taken aboard the warship, the Essex. Luke has never been on a ship this size before and soon discovers that life at sea is harsh and dangerous. Things improve when he is befriended by an older, more experienced seaman, Nick Stavenger, but still Luke wants nothing more than to escape and get back home to the girl he loves.

Louise’s story and Luke’s are told in alternating chapters and both narratives have a distinctive voice and style of their own. Luke’s is in the present tense and is filled with nautical terminology and slang; Louise’s is addressed to a mysterious ‘you’ – though we don’t have to wait long before we learn who ‘you’ is. Having finished the book, I think I can see why Kate Worsley chose to write the story in this way, but I’m not a fan of unusual or experimental writing styles in general and couldn’t help thinking that it made the book harder to read than it really needed to be!

The book was so atmospheric, though! The chapters set at sea felt realistic and gave me a good idea of how hard life could be for a pressed man in the navy, though as usual I struggled with all the references to mizen yards, main-topsails and other seafaring terms. But the descriptions of eighteenth century Harwich were particularly vivid: the labyrinths of dark alleys and smugglers’ tunnels, the smell of fish, the sailors standing in tavern doorways, the way the streets become flooded with sea water when the tide rises.

So, there were some aspects of this book that I loved and others that I didn’t like very much. I found it too slow at the beginning, but when Louise’s and Luke’s stories finally come together, the effect is amazing. I had been starting to get impatient, wondering how the two of them would be linked, but when it happened it was definitely worth waiting for! Things that had confused me earlier suddenly made perfect sense and some of the revelations in the final section of the book made me want to go back and read earlier chapters again.

She Rises reminded me of Sarah Waters, particularly Tipping the Velvet, due to the way both authors deal with themes such as gender and identity within a historical setting – so I wasn’t surprised to read that Sarah Waters was Kate Worsley’s mentor. As a first novel this was a very clever and ambitious book and although I had too many problems with it to be able to say that I loved it, I will be hoping for more books from Kate Worsley in the future.

12 thoughts on “She Rises by Kate Worsley

    • Helen says:

      I thought the dual narrator structure was handled very well, as they had such different styles I never got confused about whose story I was reading and the way the two were woven together near the end was very clever.

  1. Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp) says:

    Okay, an author mentored by Sarah Waters immediately goes on my TBR! I saw a copy of this on Netgalley and decided to give it a pass, but now I’m thinking I’ll see if it’s still available. I have problems with weird tenses too, but I can sometimes overlook that if the story is good enough.

    • Helen says:

      I did manage to cope with the unconventional writing style and tenses in this book, but I still prefer normal old-fashioned prose! I hope you’ll get an opportunity to read this at some point.

    • Helen says:

      I prefer Sarah Waters but there were a lot of similarities – and yes, the time period is fascinating to read about. I hope you enjoy it!

    • Helen says:

      I love Sarah Waters and can highly recommend any of her books! I did enjoy this book too, despite not liking the unusual mixture of styles very much.

  2. Karen K. says:

    That is the second book I’ve seen lately with a similar sort of nautical/woodcut cover. The other one is We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen, which I bought for my daughter a few weeks ago (I’ve sworn not to buy any more books for awhile, but if I buy them for HER and share them, it doesn’t count!!).

    This looks beautiful and the storyline is intriguing! I think I must have been a sailor in a previous lifetime, I love books about sailing and ships and sea voyages. I might even tackle Moby-Dick this summer.

    • Helen says:

      I love the cover – that’s what drew me to this book to begin with. I don’t usually like books about ships but I seem to find myself reading a lot of them anyway! Maybe I’ll even try Moby Dick myself one day.

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