Originally published on the The Old Salt Blog
Patrick McPherson is a 19 year surgeon’s mate in the Royal Navy. By all appearances, he is an upstanding young man with a promising future. The dark secret that the young mate carries is that he is indeed, a she. Patrick was born as Patricia. When Patricia’s husband, a ship’s surgeon dies while tending a fever outbreak in the Indies, she decides to “shed Patricia like an inconvenient skin, becoming Patrick McPherson, a surgeon’s mate, of His Majesty’s frigate Richmond, on its undercover mission to Havana…” Linda Collison’s new book Surgeon’s Mate is the second in her series following the nautical adventures of Patricia McPherson. See our review of Collision’s first book of the series, Star Crossed.
There have long been stories of women running away to join the army or navy. These have often been dismissed as the fantasies of lonely young men. Nevertheless, there have been more than a few well documented examples of women who succeeded in disguising themselves and passing as men in the military. Christian Davies, Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy, Mary Anne Talbot, Deborah Sampson, and Chevalier d’Eon, are but a few examples.
In Surgeon’s Mate, Collision deftly recreates the claustrophobic world of a Royal Navy frigate and gives the reader a glimpse of how a woman could, with considerable care and no little risk, maintain her disguise, even in the crowded and close-knit community within the wooden walls of a small navy ship.
Collison writes with an easy authority, both on shipboard life and the medical care of the period. She is an experienced sailor, including of square rigged ships, specifically, the replica of the HMS Endeavour. She is also a registered nurse. The combination, no doubt augmented by considerable research, allows her writing to feel completely authentic, whether describing the inconveniences of shipboard life, the lancing of boils or the cutting off of a sailor’s gangrenous leg.
What makes the book especially intriguing is that while Patrick must cope with performing his first amputation, inoculating a crew of a Yankee schooner against smallpox, or dealing with French privateers, she also faces the larger and even more difficult conflict of figuring out who she is, and who she wants to be. Will she follow her head or her heart? Will she reveal herself and marry the handsome gunner’s mate she loves, only to disappear into the invisible cadre of wives aboard the frigate or will she continue her chosen profession, which she can only do as a man?
This conflict remains unresolved, fortunately, as there will be more books in the series. I am indeed looking forward to the next installment. Highly recommended.
Description of: Surgeon's Mate
Author: Linda Collison