Captain Kit Brightling is Aligned to the sea, and she is more than just the queen’s messenger. A captain in the Crown Command, she serves Queen Charlotte of the Isles’ interests directly. And after a successful sting on a smuggling operation produces a coded message from Gerard, the exiled emperor of Gallia, the queen has a new mission for Kit. She is to rescue a captured spy for the queen, and she’s to do it with the unlikeliest of accomplices: Colonel Rian Grant, the viscount of Queenscliffe.
The two instantly dislike and distrust one another. As a foundling tasked with making her own way in the world, Kit is mistrustful of the nobility, and as a former soldier whose friend’s life is in danger, Grant is suspicious of Kit’s magical abilities. But if Kit and her new compatriot are to be successful in their mission, they must trust one another. Because there are worse things afoot than a simple kidnapping. The exiled emperor’s plans could alter the very face of magic and endanger the Isles in the process.
The Bright and Breaking Sea acts as an effective shot across the bow to introduce Chloe Neill’s latest series. Set in the aftermath of a fictionalized version of the first Napoleonic war, it’s full of comfortable tropes that Neill twists into something more complex. Her “brooding noble” is less brooding and more preoccupied with the traditional soldier’s mistrust of the navy and with his own estate issues. Espionage and pirates come aplenty, but there is no threat of mutiny aboard Kit’s crew. Neill doesn’t shy away from the occasional joke about class conflict, but she dispenses with the more heavy-handed and overdone tropes surrounding female characters in historical settings. While Kit does face some prejudice as a woman, the resistance she faces is as much because of her age and her status as a magic user as it is because of her gender. This change allows Kit to be more than just a “strong female main character” who has rebuffed traditional gender roles. She is instead a woman with a strong sense of duty to both country and family, a deep love of the sea and an endless amount of distrust for the nobility. In Kit, Neill creates a character who is lovable, easy to root for and believably competent.
The Bright and Breaking Sea is a rollicking book full of seafaring intrigue and fun from beginning to end. More Charlie Holmberg’s Paper Magician than Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander, it’s a light, thoughtful and occasionally thought-provoking book that focuses on relationships and internal struggles more than naval battles. For readers who love dialogue-heavy, character-driven fiction, this is a perfect fall read. Just be prepared to be heartbroken when the story (temporarily) ends.