Louise Fletcher is a dairymaid in 1790, and a reasonably content one at that; she has a purpose in life, and a purpose that she’s actually good at. Then the hand of fate steps in and she finds herself a lady’s maid to a Captain’s daughter, Rebecca Handley, soon to be engaged to a gentleman and move to London. But first, Harwich, a port on the Thames where all manner of folk wind up, and where her brother vanished a few years ago, called to the sea like all Fletchers. Alongside Louise is Luke, a boy pressed into service in His Majesty’s fleet, at first miserable but who gains his sea legs and his skills as time goes on. These two stories intertwine in surprising ways as the novel goes on.
Reviewing this book without giving the story away is going to be a real challenge, but I’ll give it a shot. It’s definitely one of those books that you should let take you without much prior knowledge from the story. I didn’t expect what was coming, especially in the second half of the book.
Unfortunately, the book did fall prey to the fact that I just don’t really like this period in history and I like stories set on ships even less, if that’s possible. The beginning and end of the book felt too long; the middle really picked up and became excellent but sank back after the main revelation. I actually liked what the author did with the plot and the two main characters. It added a different spin on the story and gave it a new dimension of meaning. If you read the book, you’ll understand – it put me into a perspective that I had never experienced before and I thought it was worth reading for that alone. The plot twist is very reminiscent of Sarah Waters, as many other reviewers have said, and it’s not a surprise that Waters was Worsley’s mentor during her degree.
Worsley is also an exceptional writer, and the prose throughout the book shows this brilliantly. The settings are evocative, the characters’ feelings leap out from the page, and the narrators are distinct. Louise’s sections are told to a certain “you” which doesn’t take long to discern, while Luke’s are simply told from his perspective. It feels a very literary novel, carefully crafted, meticulously written, but unfortunately in this case lacking the spark that I needed to fall in love with it. This is very much a like but not love book.
Still, particularly if you enjoy Sarah Waters, you may find that She Rises is worth your while. I know I’d be keen to read more by Kate Worsley in the future.
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