The Tide Watchers by Lisa Chaplin is a novel about a young woman who must risk her life as a spy to help stop Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain in the winter of 1803.
Here is a summary of the book’s plot from the publisher:
Though the daughter of an English baronet, Lisbeth has defied convention by eloping to France with her new husband. But when he breaks her heart by abandoning her, she has nowhere to turn and must work in a local tavern. Her only hope for the future is to be reunited with her young son who is being raised by her mother-in law.
A seasoned spy known by his operatives as Tidewatcher, Duncan apprenticed under Lisbeth’s father and pledged to watch over his mentor’s only daughter while he searches the Channel region for evidence that Bonaparte has built a fleet to invade Britain. But unpredictable Lisbeth challenges his lifelong habit of distance.
Eccentric, brilliant American inventor Robert Fulton is working on David Bushnell’s “turtle”—the first fully submersible ship—when he creates brand-new torpedo technology, which he plans to sell to the French Navy. But when his relationship with Bonaparte sours, he accepts Tidewatcher’s help to relocate to the French side of the Channel, but he refuses to share his invention. With an entire army encamped in the region, blocking off all access, Tidewatcher must get that submersible, along with someone who knows how to use it, to uncover Bonaparte’s great secret.
When Lisbeth is asked to pose as a housekeeper and charm Fulton so she can learn to use the submersible before the invasion fleet sails, she will be forced to sacrifice herself for her country—but is she willing to sacrifice her heart when she’s already lost it to another…?
Chaplin mixes fictional and historical characters. Even though Lisbeth and her spymaster Duncan are fictional, they are seemlessly interwoven into the life of American inventor and historical figure Fulton. This mixture of historical and fictional characters is masterful.
Although there are some historical inaccuracies (such as more modern use of words), these inaccuracies are made up for by a believable story – a disgraced, strong, aristocratic woman must try to redeem her past poor choices.
The story is based in a very fluid time in Europe. France is settling into its post-Revolution rule by Napoleon and the other European powers are trying to counter the revolutionary spirit. The roles of women in the industrial/revolutionary age (especially in Great Britain) are starting to conflict with their traditional “housewife” roles of pre-revolution times. Although at times Lisbeth is a bit too strong-willed for that time period, Chaplin mainly stays within the gender roles of the times.
The Tide Watchers is worth the read.