“She Rises, the debut novel from author Kate Worsley, is quite unlike any historical novel I've read before. Set in England and at sea in the mid-18th century, the story is told from the perspectives of dairymaid turned lady's maid Louise Fletcher, and Luke, a young man pressed into service with the Royal Navy. Louise's narrative focuses on her life as lady's maid to Rebecca, the daughter of a well-to-do sea captain, whose outlook and behaviour is far from ladylike. Captivated by Rebecca, Louise quickly becomes devoted to her, and it isn't long before their relationship deepens. While Louise's story occurs on land, Luke's narrative takes place at sea. Forcibly pressed into service aboard the HMS Essex, Luke struggles to find his place on the warship. Life at sea proves brutal for Luke, who makes few friends and attracts unwanted attention, but it is also exhilarating. As the story moves back and forth between the two narratives, the reader is left to ponder how and in what manner they will converge.
Although the narrative of She Rises seamlessly alternates between Louise and Luke's stories, it is Louise who is the central character in the novel. Louise proves to be the more compelling of the two protagonists, especially as the reader is given very little insight into Luke himself until much later in the novel. While I found Louise's storyline to be the more engaging of the two, both narratives nicely showcase Worsely's ability to create a strong sense of both time and place. This is especially pronounced in the chapters that take place at sea, as I think Worsley has done a fabulous job of capturing the essence of life on ship for the ordinary sailor.
While the writing in this novel is strong, and the story moves along at a steady pace, the book never managed to fully capture my interest. Although told in first person, I didn't feel as if I really got to know either Louise or Luke and, as a result, I never felt entirely invested in their stories. Nor did I understand what it was about Rebecca that drew Louise to her. I had correctly anticipated how Louise and Luke's story lines would converge quite early in the novel, and, unfortunately, this served to lessen the impact for me when their stories finally did come together.
She Rises features subjects not generally found in mainstream historical fiction and I really liked how Worsley depicts them. While the story itself may not have worked as well for me as I had hoped, I think readers who enjoy literary historical novels will find She Rises to be a book well worth reading.
Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. ”