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Lisa Chaplin – The Tide Watchers

January 2, 2016

Chaplin, Lisa - The Tide Watchers - 400LibraryThing Early Reviewers61. The Tide Watchers by Lisa Chaplin (2015)

Length: 454 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 30 August 2015
Finished: 04 October 2015

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.
Why do I have it? I was after some good historical fiction, and the description sounded interesting.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 July 2015.

Spying along the
French coast is easier if
you’re underwater.

Summary: Duncan is an experienced spy for the British, known to most of his associates only as Tidewatcher. Duncan’s masters know that Napoleon’s up to something along the channel coast, but no one’s sure exactly what, and it’s Duncan’s job to find out. In his attempts to do so, he encounters Lisbeth, a young English noblewoman who ran off to France with a dashing husband who later turned cruel and manipulative, leaving her stranded but under his power, as he holds her infant son hostage to her good behavior. Lisbeth is perfectly placed for Duncan’s needs – the American inventor Robert Fulton is working on a submersible craft that would allow Duncan to secretly scout out French naval movements and enter occupied cities, but Fulton doesn’t much like the British, and is threatening to sell his plans to the French. But Lisbeth, working as Fulton’s maid, could help persuade him, and thereby turn the tide for Britain, but how can Duncan ask her to risk entering the world of espionage when she’s already been through so much?

Review: I really, really wanted to like this book more than I actually did, which is frustrating, and more frustrating still is that I can’t quite put my finger on what about it I didn’t like. It’s set in a time period that I find interesting: check. It’s got a good story, with plenty of twists and turns: check. It’s got an exciting plot with espionage, chases, narrow escapes, action, and adventure: check. It’s well written, with a nice balance of detailed description and action and dialogue in very smooth and elegant prose: check. It’s got multidimensional characters: check. So I should have been all over this book, right?

The issue was that I just didn’t really care about the characters (with an exception of Duncan’s half brothers, who I quite liked and wished we got to spend more time with). It’s not that they felt flat, exactly – they are interestingly layered – but I never got emotionally invested in their problems, which made the book more slow going than it should have been. Part of this is maybe because I could tell the general shape of the plot, from both reading other historical fiction, and from knowing actual history – of course Napoleon is not going manage to invade Britain, and it’s a good bet that our heroes are going to be a part of thwarting his plans. But even on the fictional side, I had a hard time getting invested. Can Lisbeth learn to risk her heart again? Will Duncan deal with his issues about family and identity? Yes to both, but these and questions like them never drew me in with much urgency – and urgency is not something that you want to be lacking in your spy novels. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: The story’s well woven and well written but I didn’t find it particularly compelling, although other readers that are drawn to this time period might connect with the characters and the story more than I was able to.

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Other Reviews: Book Him Danno, Ex Libris and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
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First Line: “Commander, we got another semaphore message from the ship.”

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 10: “The match to the kit-cat Eddie gave him was exact.” – Designating a canvas used for portraits of a peculiar size, viz., twenty-eight or twenty-nine inches by thirty-six; – so called because that size was adopted by Sir Godfrey Kneller for the portraits he painted of the members of the Kitcat Club.
  • p. 27: “Only Zephyr and Eddie knew Duncan’s new cover name – but the handwriting, slanted and hard without bothering to be copperplate, wasn’t the spymaster’s but his mentor’s.” – a graceful style of handwriting based on the writing used on copperplate engravings
  • p. 112: “A little lady sat beside him, either a paid companion or poor relative, well dressed but without jewels, frills, or furbelows.” – A ruffle or flounce on a garment.
  • p. 113: “He was privy to every on-dit passing through the Alien Office” – a rumour; piece of gossip
  • p. 172: “When the time came for the dancing, he led the girl onto the dance floor, leading her in a boulanger.” – the finishing dance at a ball. It took place in a circle formation and alternated between turning the other dancers in the circle and their partner. Once everyone had done those movements in one direction, the dance was repeated going the other way to finish the dance.
  • p. 179: “Returning to her, he took in the soft amber redingote and dress she wore.” – A woman’s full-length unlined coat or dress open down the front to show a dress or underdress.
  • p. 222: “He was arrayed in a red banyan, tied at the waist with a silken cord.” – a loose-fitting shirt, jacket, or robe, worn originally in India
  • p. 291: “No point in repining the hand he’d been dealt.” – To be discontented or low in spirits; complain or fret.
  • p. 333: ““I see… yes, if we made holes along one plank… deeper holes could be made at the lazarette – the back of the cargo hold, by the keep – it would be difficult to notice at anchor.”” – A storage space below deck or between decks on a ship or boat.
  • p. 368: ““I’m sorry I can’t offer you tea, but I have some ratafia–“” – A sweet cordial flavored with fruit kernels or almonds.

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