Carla Kelly wraps up her "Brandon Sisters" series with Marrying the Royal Marine. All illegitimate, each of the three sisters marries an officer fighting Napoleon in various branches of the service. It's been an interesting series, but one that has left me feeling uneasy.
Polly Brandon is on a ship to Oporto, Portugal to help a sister and her Navy surgeon husband who runs a military hospital there when she meets Lt. Colonel Hugh Junot. Poor Polly is violently seasick and Hugh takes care of her during the journey in his brisk and practical manner. The embarrassed Polly is pretty tough and manages to charm Hugh even when she is at her worst. By the end of the voyage, they are well on their way to being in love with each other.
Circumstances - Polly's work and Hugh's assignment as a roving investigator - as well as their own feelings of inadequacy - Polly's illegitimacy and glasses-wearing plainness and Hugh's fears that his advanced age (he is more than 15 years older than she) makes him unsuitable for her - keep them apart physically, but never emotionally. Hugh does, however, join Polly on a trip upriver to bring women sexually abused by the French back to the haven of Oporto. The trip goes terribly wrong; Polly and Hugh do not expect to live through the experience and so find that the obstacles that have kept them apart are trivial.
The usual Kelly staples of great romance are present; the wonderful Beta Hero who falls hard and fast, the earthy and plain-speaking quality of the writing, the heroism of normal people in abnormal circumstances - all here and all qualities I have always admired in Kelly. However, this time it affected me differently.
I am all for grittiness and realism in romance, but this time, I felt a line was crossed in my own personal standards. The events of the book (which I cannot get into detail about because of spoilers) were so grim, the atmosphere so oppressive, that I almost stopped reading. That has never happened to me before when reading a Carla Kelly book. I'm an enormous fan and the fact that I wanted to stop reading really brought me up short. I continued, of course, and everything eventually turned out okay - it is a romance, after all - but I was left feeling uneasy.
Your mileage may vary, of course, and your enjoyment of Marrying the Royal Marine probably depends upon your tolerance for a realistic telling of people coping during a war where horrible things happen all the time. My tolerance is usually pretty high, but this left me a bit depressed - not what I'm usually looking for in a romance.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, June 19, 2010