There are books I want to savour, to relish and appreciate and others are a quick thrill, a sudden satisfaction. Kate Worsley’s She Rises (released by Bloomsbury in 2013) is most definitely the former. Searching online, you will find a lot of reviews on this work and they range from the markedly impressed to the opposite extreme. Many, unfortunately, contain significant spoilers and will ruin the discovery that awaits you in this notable story. Some reviewers have held the author’s pedigree and mentor in mind and appear to have measured her against Sarah Waters. Other readers have been perturbed by the violence contained within the stories of Luke and Louise, questioning its purpose in their tales. I found She Rises to be exceptional in its ability to place me in the setting and to keep me enthralled and curious by the world I am invited to inhabit alongside these two teens.
Ms. Worsley swings us between the two main characters’ tales using crisply descriptive language to imbed us in their time and circumstances. While her writing is visual and lush, each scene is created with efficient skill and she succeeds in building a world and time period in my mind with words I instinctively understand, even as some sound foreign to my inner ear. Each alternating chapter provides us with one of the two storylines that eventually intersect and Ms. Worsley succeeds in using even the chapter lengths to contribute to the pace, dynamism and urgency of her story. Technically, this book is one of the better crafted stories I’ve read this year and the quality of editing is evident in its apparent disappearance. The pace swells and drops, bringing us closer and closer to the story’s’ climax – which some readers report to have found startling.
Luke awakens on board a boat, injured, disoriented and with a growing awareness that he is the victim of a press gang. He begins a desperate journey of survival, trust and resignation, all while intent upon returning to his love. Louise, a dairy maid is provided an opportunity to escape farm life, minimize her mother’s impact and to discover the fate of her brother. She too must learn to navigate a new set of societal rules and expectations as she pins her future to that of her new employer. While Luke appears desperate to return to someone he has been forcibly separated from, Lou is looking forward, cutting her ties to home and anticipating new relationships and experiences. Luke has a secret he must protect at all costs, and in the underbelly of the warship this proves more challenging than the new skills he must acquire, or the men he must guard against. He is disappearing into his new role and we become increasingly aware of the toll this change demands upon him. Louise’s decision to closely align herself with her mistress Rebecca is simultaneously naive and cutthroat in its purpose, and will have implications and consequences that unfurl throughout the book. We accompany both of these characters via their first person recountings of events, their fears and remembrances, learning about the harshness of life on board naval vessels and the pettiness found in city households.
Strong supporting characters are rich and deep, creating a detailed backdrop against which we come to better understand Lou and Luke. The author succeeds in keeping the personalities realistic and appropriate. Townhouse employees Billy Price, Hannah Shepherd, sailors Gilles De Clare and Nick Stavenger among others, make the stories all the more believable and we are not nudged out by flat, cliched characters.
Identity, abandonment, captivity, sacrifice, and manipulation are unveiled and examined from both Luke and Lou’s perspectives. Each is abandoned and cut others lose, give up long held identities, and discover ways in which to make their new world their own. Luke and Louise occupy and must operate in a world vividly different to ours. Their reality is harsher, less forgiving yet logical, potentially startling for the 21st century reader. Be prepared to see a rough, sometimes violent world that demands much from these teens. Captivity, abuse, and illness are experienced and take their toll on characters and readers alike.
If you are looking for a quick read, a light romance or thrilling adventure, then She Rises should be set aside, assigned to your TBR pile. It is, however, an ideal book for a buddy read or group discussion. You will find much to debate in this moving story, imbued with challenging issues that are just as relevant today as they were in the eighteenth century. Its conclusion is certain to lead to much thought and interesting conversations, and I, personally, found it frustratingly maddening while simultaneously satisfying. This is a debut novel of note that has me looking forward to the author’s future novels with much anticipation.
You can download a sample or purchase She Rises by clicking here.