Recent Reading: The Unlikely Master Genius by Carla Kelly

Okay, so sometimes Carla Kelly writes these meticulously researched historical novels with an additional romance plot, and sometimes she writes a romance novel in a historical setting … and then sometimes she writes ridiculous, but charming, novels that are sort of like historical romances, but not really.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

Sailing Master Able Six, Royal Navy, is a man like no other. To call him a mere polymath is to sell him short. Someone with his extraordinary gifts should rise to the top, unless it is the 1800s, where pedigree and money govern Regency society, as sure as Napoleon seeks world domination. A bastard raised in a Scottish workhouse with nothing in his favor except his amazing mind, Able must navigate life ashore on half-pay during the uneasy Truce of Amiens, and find a way to provide for his charming bride Meridee Bonfort, a gentlewoman to be sure, but lacking a dowry.

Assisted by two sea captains acquainted with his startling abilities, Able finds himself teaching mathematics and seamanship at St. Brendan the Navigator School, which is itself an experiment, taking boys like Able from workhouses and training them to serve the fleet in wartime. Meridee has agreed to invite four lads who need extra attention into their home in raffish, unsavory Portsmouth. Calling themselves the Gunwharf Rats, these St. Brendan lads show promise in an unpromising world. Can a sailing master-turned-teacher uncover their potential? Can Meridee find a way to nurture young hearts bruised too soon by life? What will happen when war breaks out again? And what is it about Able Six, the unlikely master genius?

The romance novel took place earlier. There’s a prequel novella in A Country Christmas, and I gather that’s the one where Able Six meets his beloved. In THIS book, they get married right at the beginning and the story is not at all a romance novel. Able and Meridee are very happy and never have a moment’s doubt about each other. This is much more a story about found family than a romance story. And a school story, of course, since we’ve got this sailing-master-turned-teacher thing going too.

In this story, all the boys are diamonds in the rough; all the intimidating tough-looking characters have hearts of gold; the wealthy, influential people backing the school are (mostly) competent and (always) generous; the villains are totally villainous so we can cheer when they predictably get what’s coming to them; and so on.

Given the story’s warmth and charm, the reader can ignore or set aside the ludicrously obvious subplot involving the villain, Master Blake. How anyone with half a brain, far less a polymath genius, could conceivably fail to put the whole villainous scheme together instantly, is hard to fathom. But never fear; justice is done in the end, as was utterly certain to happen.

There are a smallish number of authors who have written books I would NEVER have guessed were by the same person. Carla Kelly now joins that number. I would never have guessed that the same author who wrote this story had also written My Loving Vigil Keeping, which is one of those meticulous historicals with some romance, very much set in real history. An Unlikely Master Genius, while Napoleonic-era-ish, doesn’t have the depth of a story grounded in real history. The brushstrokes are too broad, I guess, both in painting in the history and the characters.

Overall, a delightful story. Not a lot of depth, but that’s sometimes fine, and so it is here.

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4 thoughts on “Recent Reading: The Unlikely Master Genius by Carla Kelly”

  1. Bah. The Regency left plenty of room for advancement for ambitious and connected commoners *in Scotland*. It’s like a Who’s Who of 19th century Enlightenment advancement!

  2. Oh heck. My apology didn’t post right. That was an awful post when I was much too exhausted to think straight.

  3. Allan, I’ve just finished the second book, and it was just about the same — warm and fuzzy, almost a parody of the Napoleonic era, with a super-obvious villainous plot impinging on pleasant family dynamics. On to the third book …

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