I've long had a peculiar love for Regency romances (ask me about my complete collection of Georgette Heyer). Every time I've gotten wind of a Regency featuring a romance between women, I've done my best to track it down. Some have been very enjoyable, some have been adequate, some have been disappointing. But I now have a reigning favorite in this admittedly small genre: Jeannelle M. Ferreira's The Covert Captain: Or, a Marriage of Equals. Captain Nathaniel Fleming--once Eleanor--has returned from the Napoleonic wars shaken and emotionally damaged, a state she shares with her comrade and commanding officer Major Sherbourne. What she has never shared is the secret of her true gender. Fleming has long known her attraction to women, but when the woman in question is Major Sherbourne's spinster sister, there are some hard decisions to make and even harder consequences to deal with.
The Covert Captain has a strong command of its historic era, including how the varieties of sexual orientation were understood and treated at the time. The writing is rich, immersive, and solid. But where the book truly caught my heart is in the complex layerings of the plot. This isn't a simple, straightforward girl-meets-girl-disguised-as-boy story. The experiences of Captain Fleming and Major Sherbourne during the war are detailed (through flashbacks) in a realistic and incisive way that roots the motivations and reflexes of the characters and provides one set of both obstacles and resolutions to the romance. There are multiple hazards to Captain Fleming's decision to reach for love, not simply Harriet's reaction to the somewhat belated disclosure of her secret. And Harriet has secrets of her own to unravel.
I loved how their relationship progressed from shy friendship to dawning desire to misunderstanding to commitment and beyond it to a devotion that out-lasted all barriers. There is plenty of time for the reader to believe in their attraction and to watch them struggle past all the social and economic realities of the setting. I also enjoyed how the text gave us just the lightest taste of their erotic relationship without taking detours for extended sex scenes that would have felt out of place in this genre.
I'm trying very hard here to come up with logical and dispassionate explanations for why I love this book, but when it comes down to it, I have fallen deeply, madly, passionately in love with the story in a way that I would never consider believable if that love were between two fictional characters on the page. I've grown too used to being patient either with lackluster writing, or with an absence of queer characters, or with genres I'm not really into in order to get two-out-of-three in my reading. The Covert Captain does not require me to make any compromises in my love. That's a rare thing, but I dream of it becoming ordinary.