The Captain of All Pleasures by Kresley Cole

Overall: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Well, I’ve got a mini-book about this book for you today. I really loved this book. I’ve been feeling uninspired to read lately. Nothing’s been catching my attention and I feel like this book has firmly reawakened my interest. It reminded me of all the things I love about romance, that I’ve been missing for a couple months now (with a few exceptions). While this book wasn’t perfect, it had some really special things about it, namely the setting, which is different than your average historical, but also an intriguing hero and heroine and an abundance of all those feelings of falling in love. 

The setting of this book is quite captivating. The hero and heroine (Derek and Nicole) are rival sailors competing in the Great Circle Race, which takes them over a 13,000 mile journey from London to Sydney. They travel across some of the worlds most ferocious seas, battle terrifying storms, and through it all their relationship navigates deceit and mistrust as much as it does lust and love. 

And there’s some excellent storytelling here. The details about the hero and heroine are revealed slowly, peeled back layer by layer through their interactions with others and the happenings in the book, as opposed to only through their own inner dialogues, as happens in so many other novels. We only learn something new about them or have a secret revealed when it becomes relevant or is raised naturally as things develop and progress. 

Nicole is just twenty years old but has lived her life aboard a yankee clipper ship and has traveled the world. She’s an accomplished navigator and as comfortable with hard labor as the men in her crew. What I loved about Nicole is that she’s so sure of herself. She doesn’t question her actions or ever regret them. She lives life without apology, and manages to do so without coming off as hard, uncaring, or cold, which I think is something authors struggle with at times when writing independent women. And when it comes to Derek, she genuinely tries to understand what kind of man he really is, even when she questions his intentions, she’s quick to try and discover the truth. 

The problem is that Derek has no idea who he is or what kind of man he’s capable of being. He doesn’t believe in himself and no one else does either. They all think he’s rotten to the core, and selfish to boot. And over the years he’s met those expectations by sinking himself lower and lower into alcohol and sailing, completely abandoning any of his responsibilities and caring very little that he’s done so. 

With Nicole, Derek gets everything so wrong. He messes everything up. He’s exceedingly arrogant, despite the fact that his arrogance is completely unwarranted. He is a brute, the kind of man who thinks he can own and control women. He thinks it and threatens is, but before you give up on him, he barely acts in it. Because in reality, it’s all a defense mechanism. Inside he’s so sad and lonely, so self-loathing, and so lost. Never connecting with anything or any one (and no wonder), until Nicole, which he screws up to nearly unfathomable depths. 

What I loved so much about this story is that he changes for her. And not because she asked him to. Not because she pushed him to. It wasn’t at her behest. He changed because he decided to become worthy of her all on his own. I loved that. I loved that he woke up and won her without her begging him to do so. He simply realized that it was time. That he would lose any chance with her if he didn’t wake the hell up and fix himself. That’s not to say he miraculously does a complete about face. He waivers. His old tendencies reassert themselves. He continues to make mistakes. But as he does he tries to figure out what he’s done wrong and make it up to her. 

So, why am I not giving this book 5 stars? Well, it could have been pure magic if only there’d been a bit more world building. As a kid I spent my summers sailing around the Long Island sound. Sure, that’s nowhere near as incredible as sailing a clipper ship from London to Sydney, but there are things about being out on the open water that are so nostalgic to me and are utterly unique to the experience of being at sea. Like the sounds of seagulls overhead, the rhythm of crashing waves, the scent of salty and fresh sea air, the way the wind chafes your face, the low fog that lingers over the sea in the morning, the slight smell of fish and seaweed when in a harbor, the clanging of bells and whipping of sails in the wind. All of these things were markedly absent to me and they could have added an extra layer of richness to the book. 

There were also some parts that dragged a bit, a few things less developed or resolved than I would have preferred, and I don’t think she captured the passage of time so well. And, while it didn’t bother me, some people might complain that this book doesn’t “feel” historical. It could take place in nearly any time period, save for a few London season scenes. But perhaps that’s the nature of being at sea, which will inherently remain timeless outside of whatever ship you sail on. 

But the negatives are outweighed by the the chemistry between the hero and heroine. I rather expected Kresley Cole to be almost…erotica. But this book was steamy without going overboard (pun intended). There were even long stretches with very little physical contact, but the tension between them was sizzling. And then there was a great amount of falling in love, which of course is what we all want in a romance. 

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