There's something about a novel set in the 18th century. This was a time before photography, so our understanding of that world is based far more on images, such as the elegant portraits created of the rich and famous.
Details from Lady Smith and Her Children by Joshua Reynolds.
A face full of intelligence and wit that could well be Dawnay Price,
the narrator of Song of the Sea Maid.
We also have satirical cartoons that reflected the times and politics, which ~ at the other extreme of art ~ were vividly comic caricatures. Very scurrilous and bawdy in their truths. Very focused on reality.
The Miseries of London by Rowlandson, which gives a good impression of scenes
described at the very opening of Song of the Sea Maid.
And then, of course, we have the words - the books created at that time, whether in the cunning observations of Swift, or in exciting adventurous novels like Defoe's tales of Robinson Crusoe, or Fielding's saucier Tom Jones.
Hardback cover of The Song of the Sea Maid
And now, in Song of the Sea Maid, Rebeca Mascull has created her own tale of this 'Age of Enlightenment', grounding her heroine's life and times on the extraordinary scientific developments and discoveries about the natural world that were also going on then.
Much in the style of Fielding, in the character of Dawnay Price, Mascull creates an engaging heroine who, with the help of patrons who admire her drive and intelligence, is saved from destitution and brought up in a home for foundlings. There is a great deal of luck involved. Dawnay's fate could have been very different. But her patrons are kind and seek only to foster her personal drive to improve and learn ~ after which she braves maritime warfare while travelling abroad to Portugal, where she then researches ancient caves where the locals say sea maidens live. And there, she also falls in love.
Mascull's research is thorough, but she wears that knowledge lightly, deftly weaving the novel's themes of romance, science, and feminism into an absorbing story.
If this historical novel appeals, you may also like Rebel Heiress by Fiona Mountain, or The Lady's Slipper by Deborah Swift.