Book Review

Song From the Sea by Katherine Kingsley

Song From the Sea is what vacation reading is all about. It almost, but not quite, reaches Windflower levels of wonderful absurdity. The heroine has AMNESIA! (that’s how I type ‘amnesia’ as a matter of principle) and sings with a “clear, high voice” and communicates with animals. Remember the animated Cinderella? That’s our girl. By page 36 she’s in the home of a brooding hero, being fed broth by a motherly housekeeper as she recuperates from falling off a boat. It’s glorious.

The story begins with Adam Carlyle, Marquess of Vale, in a rowboat. He has rowed out to sea with the thought of jumping overboard. His wife and son died over two years ago and he is still grieving. However, he’s distracted by the sight of a young woman on the deck of an approaching clipper ship. She is singing, while being circled by a gull. It’s very mystical. Then she falls overboard, hitting her head on the side of the ship on the way down, and Adam has to rescue her and take her home. Hence the AMNESIA! and the broth.

Callie (the woman with the AMNESIA!) is afraid that if she tells Adam that she has AMNESIA! he will send her to an asylum. Therefore, she pretends to be a woman who was travelling to England from Italy. Interestingly, when she has to pick a name for herself, she picks ‘Callie’ without realizing that this is her actual name. At first she stays with Adam while she recuperates from the head wound and an ensuing fever and then she stays because Adam doesn’t want to send her off into the world with no connections. Incidentally, Adam figures out about the AMNESIA! early on but just plays along.

Although the woman doesn’t know who she is, the reader does, thanks to a prologue in which we meet her and her father. Her name really is Callie, and she was raised in Greece by her father, who diedafter arranging for Callie to sail to England and marry Harold Carlyle. Harold is the son of an old friend of Callie’s father. Callie hadno intention of marrying someone she’s never met, but after her father diedCallie dutifully setoff for England so that she can break things off with Harold in person. She gotclose to England, she sanga song, she felloverboard, and here we are.

Naturally the mystery of the AMNESIA! distracts Adam from his sorrow and he takes an interest in Callie. The doctor says she has to avoid stress, so cranky Adam has to be polite and patient. Pretty soon they are spending a lot of time together, frequently without a chaperone (gasp!). Callie also hangs out with the cook, who teaches her how to make pastry, and Nellie (one of Adam’s tenants). She talks to the bees on the estate and calms them down. She feeds wild swans by hand despite the fact that they attack everyone else who approaches them. She prescribes various herbal ointments and tisanes to anyone who has an injury or a headache or, in the case of a toddler, is teething.

Adam finds all this so distracting that, although he still thinks about his lost wife and son, he actually takes an interest in things and starts eating and sleeping again and basically coming to healthy terms with his loss. His staff is thrilled and if it were up to them Adam and Callie would be hitched by page 36 (that is, the minute Callie regains consciousness). Eventually Callie meets Harold who is:

  1. Adam’s cousin and foster brother
  2. Incredibly jealous of Adam
  3. A bully to the point of caricature, although his mustache-twirling and his evil mom fit right in with the tone of the rest of the book (see: AMNESIA! and all that talking to animals).

Spoiler: Eventually Callie hits her head again and gets her memory back. I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how amnesia, the medical condition, works, but it fixes AMNESIA! the literary trope every time. So she’s fine.

Given all the drama, the actual romance part is pretty straightforward. After a rocky start, Adam and Callie become comfortable with each other. They have hot sexual tension, but also they are very good at just hanging out. They are great at sex and great at witty banter and of course there’s a lot of adjacent drama what with the evil cousin, a nearby evil landowner, Adam’s dead family, and the AMNESIA!, but Adam and Callie are good at wandering around the grounds and being two people who enjoy each other’s company. This is an underrated quality in a romance. I love it.

The following involves a Trigger Warning for discussion of rape.

Click here for some questionable elements about Adam’s character

Sometimes a book is going along fine and then injects one weird page that completely changes the way I see at least one character, after which the contents of this page are never mentioned again. This happens on page 277, in which Adam reflects on how much his first wife (Caro) hated and feared sex no matter how gentle Adam tired to be. Here’s a thought Adam – maybe instead of being sympathetic but having sex anyway, you leave the poor woman the hell alone?

Granted, the idea that a Marquess should not have sex with his wife unless she is an eager participant is a modern one, and well-bred ladies were not expected to be enthusiastic about “doing their duty.”After all, it is Adam and Caro’s actual responsibility to have a son. Once Caro becomes pregnant Adam respects her refusal to have sex during the pregnancy. He also considers whether he will “have to live a life of celibacy” after the baby is born. So clearly he has regard for Caro’s dislike of sex. It’s also probable that Caro was genuinely committed to trying to have a sexual relationship, and that therefore she fully consented to sex even though she disliked it.

Still, without knowing anything from Caro’s point of view, it is at least possible that in modern terms Adam committed marital rape in the early stage of their marriage. This page needed to be either completely dropped or considerably expanded, because “Adam might be a rapist” should be a bomb that changes the entire book, not a casual aside. It’s an insensitive and poorly explained moment that is inconsistent with everything I read about Adam before and after that page.

With the exception of page 277, this romance is sweet and just the perfect amount of cheesy for a summer’s day in the mountains or on the beach. It’s ridiculous and delightful if you are the kind of person who can get behind a character who sings mystically into the waves before falling off a boat and obtaining a massive head injury with AMNESIA!. There is not a tinge of history in this “historical romance” but fine, whatever. The book convinced me that brooding Adam and singing Callie are Meant to Be, which is the job of a romance, and it entertained me, which is the job of a novel, so its work here is done.

The B grade is because of the bizarre impact of page 277, and a recognition that the line between “this is ridiculous and I love it” and “This is ridiculous and therefore garbage” is both fine and subjective.

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Song From the Sea by Katherine Kingsley

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  1. DonnaMarie says:

    And he saved her from spending the rest of her life Callie Carlyle.

    Alliterative names always make me think they are characters in a Marvel comic.

  2. Lora says:

    HIs name is also Carlyle, thus she is stuck with Callie Carlyle as her father intended. Also, we are Greek and named Callie? Eh, i realize i’m looking for realism when there’s AMNESIA and when she is dumb enough to literally fall off a boat because she was singing.
    I don’t mind the silly AMNESIA, but the Adam probably raping his wife thing is a nope for me.

  3. DonnaMarie says:

    @Lora, missed that! Too early, not enough coffee. Now I need to figure out what her super power might be.

  4. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    One of the reasons historical romances and I came to a parting of the ways some years ago was that I was tired of anachronistic naming conventions. No matter how well-written a book is, if the name is obviously 20th/21st century, I just can’t get into it. Callie in the 1800s? I have my doubts. I’ll take my Skylars, Brianas, and Madisons living in 2018, thank you!

  5. Cristie says:

    This is the kind of book my teenage self would have gobbled up with two spoons. I’m gonna have to buy it, in spite of swearing last night that I wouldn’t buy any more books this month.

  6. Dr. Opossum says:

    Regarding the name comments, I haven’t read the book but her full name could be Calliope. I knew a Greek American girl with that name.

  7. QOTU says:

    Regarding p. 277, if it’s not information that is referenced again, why leave it in the book (put it in there in there first place)? I would like to think that the editor suggested it be cut. And the author is into the “sex with the RIGHT person must be better, therefore sex with the wrong person must suck” concept. Too into it to remove a badly phrased comment. Or rework it into the same idea with less creepy wording.
    I’d like to believe that editors are out there fighting the good fight, but I actually believe they are overworked and underpaid as the publishing industry tries to save as much money as possible.
    Thanks for the warning! Of I read this, I’ll skip the page.

  8. Caitlin says:

    It could also be Callista, which was definitely in use back in the day. There was even an 1855 English novel called Callista, after the (Greek) main character.

  9. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    I stand corrected!

  10. Caitlin says:

    @DiscoDollyDeb, names totally pull me out, too. 🙂 I’ve pretty much hurled books across the room for having era-inaccurate names and when I write I choose my characters’ names from the Social Security Admin’s list of top 100 for the year in which they were born so I totally get it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I can get behind characters having unusual names, but only if they’re period-appropriate unusual names, if that makes sense. Not if they are, for instance, names that no one would have had because they weren’t names yet, or weren’t used in that country yet. So a 19th century hero named Theophilus? Yeah, okay. Aidan? Not if he’s supposed to be an English duke, thanks.

    The name that bugs me more than anything else in historicals is, for some reason, Meredith. Well, okay, there’s a reason, just a slightly irrational one: a lot of authors pick it, I guess because they think it sounds old-fashioned?, but that name was not used for women until much more recently than they seem to think. So it’s like they’re trying to pick an accurate name but aren’t actually bothering to check whether they actually have, which for some reason (this is the irrational part) bothers me more than if they aren’t pretending to care and have named her Madison or something.

    Also: is anyone else unduly bothered when authors give characters more or less period-appropriate names but then give them a period-inappropriate nickname (in the hero’s case, often from his title)? Like… I see what you did there, author. You’re not fooling me here.

  12. CarrieS says:

    Callie is short for “Callista.” she is ethnically English but raised in Greece.

  13. Holly says:

    Oh wow, I really liked Kingsley’s books as a teenager and had no idea they were now available as ebooks. I’ll have to see if they stand the test of time for me.

  14. Desiree says:

    Callie was also a 19th century English name; It was a diminutive of Caroline. e.g. Callie House, a post-slavery advocate for ex-slave support and compensation.

  15. Sandra says:

    So, our hero didn’t think to hail the ship and let them know they’d lost a passenger? Or track it down later? I’m sure they missed her eventually.

  16. CarrieS says:

    He tracks them down later but they basically were all “huh we wondered what the deal was with this luggage, *shrug*” You’d think a woman singing to seagulls would be more memorable but hey maybe they have one on every trip.

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