If you've ever found yourself thinking, gee, I wish there were more novels about seafaring adventurers—well, this is your summer. Five—yes, five—upcoming books explore the ocean's destructive and seductive powers, spanning centuries and featuring a very diverse cast of characters.
Monique Roffey's Archipelago (Viking, June) is set in modern-day Trinidad, which has just been torn apart by a devastating flood. Their home destroyed, Gavin and his young daughter pack up the dog and set out on a life-changing voyage on the very sea that turned their lives upside-down. Roffey is an up-and-coming writer; her previous novel, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, was a 2011 Orange Prize finalist. Fans of Caribbean literature and father-daughter stories should pay attention.
Rewind a couple hundred years to 1819 for poet Eli Brown's madcap adventure, Cinnamon and Gunpowder (FSG, June). Female pirate Hannah Mabbot, famous for both her ruthlessness and flaming red hair, captures master chef Owen Wedgewood in a raid on an British lord's mansion. She agrees to spare his life—as long as he cooks her a delicious meal every Sunday. Wedgewood finds the provisions aboard the Flying Rose sadly inadequate, yet he is inventive enough to coax out some four-star meals from the one-star ingredients. In the meantime, an unlikely respect blossoms between captive and captain. Quirky characters combined with the adventure of the high seas make for a novel unlike any other you've read.
If we're judging a book by its cover, Kate Worsley's She Rises (Bloomsbury, June) wins by a mile. This literary novel set in 1740 is the story of Louise, whose father and brother were lost to the sea. Still, she doesn't say no when a wealthy ship's captain asks her to be his daughter's maid and companion. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Luke is impressed into service on one of his majesty's ships, desperate to return to the girl he left behind and struggling to survive the hard life of a sailor. Worsley's debut is is impeccably researched, bringing the Georgian period and its hardships to life.
Challenging and elliptical, Lori Baker's The Glass Ocean (The Penguin Press, August) features another unusual red-haired heroine (is there a genetic link between red hair and a yen for the ocean?). Orphaned Calotta Dell'oro lost her parents to the sea, and as she pieces together their story, which began with a fateful 1841 meeting, it becomes clear that the past is key to shaping her future. Baker, who is the author of two short story collections and teaches at Brown University, received a blurb from Thomas Pynchon for this debut—which seems a more accurate indicator of its content than the popular-fiction cover treatment.
Speaking of unconventional heroines, Janice Clark serves us up another one in 15-year-old Mercy Rathbone, narrator of The Rathbones (Doubleday, August). The youngest in a long dynasty of whalers—a dying industry in 1849, when the novel is set—Mercy lives with her mother and uncle Mordecai on the shores of Connecticut, missing her father, who has yet to return from the voyage he set out on seven years earlier. When violence strikes, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to set off on a voyage of their own, one that takes them through the family's haunted past. Clark's debut is tinged with the Gothic and has echoes of Poe and Melville, but the alternating past-and-present storylines and shaking of the family tree recalls Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton.
Whew. I hope there are some fans of seafaring fiction out there. Any of these float your boat (sorry!)?