Song of the Sea Maid, by Rebecca Mascull

Song of the Sea Maid, by Rebecca Mascull

I’m trying out a new format for reviews today, and I’m delighted that Rebecca Mascull, ace writer and fellow Prime Writer, has agreed to be my guinea pig. Rebecca’s gorgeous second novel, Song of the Sea Maid, came out in paperback last week. Set in the 18th century, it follows the fortunes of Dawnay Price as she evolves from destitute orphan to educated woman.




Questions for the author: Who, What, Why, When, How?


Who (is Song of the Sea Maid about, and who is it aimed at)?

It’s about Dawnay Price, an C18th orphan who dreams of being a scientist. It’s a novel for adult readers.

What (is Song of the Sea Maid about)? 

Dawnay becomes a scientist, travels abroad and makes a remarkable discovery…

Why (did you want to write this particular book)?

I wanted to answer this question: what if a person of no importance in times past came up with a brilliant scientific idea? Would they ever be heard?

When (is Song of the Sea Maid set)?

It’s set in the early to mid 18th century, from the 1730s to the 1750s.

How (did you go about researching Song of the Sea Maid)?

I read dozens of books about the period and the topics, watched documentaries and movies, and visited 18th century houses and collections.

My review of Song of the Sea Maid

Dawnay Price’s memories begin when her beloved older brother is taken up by a pressgang, leaving her alone on the streets of 18th century London. Rescued by the charitable gentleman whose wig she tries to steal, she is taken in by an orphanage and brought up as a foundling. Fortunately for her, the matron of this establishment is kinder than many of her ilk (compare her to the hideous Mr Bumble), and is understanding, if doubtful, of Dawnay’s obvious intellect, condoning her midnight sessions as she teaches herself to read and write. Although Dawnay’s ambitions are dismissed by the orphanage’s founder, she is brought to the attention of a certain Mr Woods. Woods is a self-made merchant, tolerated in company because of his immense wealth. He has offered to sponsor the education of one orphan and, against the founder’s advice, chooses to bestow this on a girl, Dawnay. Woods provides her firstly with a tutor, the kindly Mr Applebee, and later a home and the opportunity to spend all of her time at the study of science.

Mr Woods still expects Dawnay to marry, but she has other ideas, and manages to convince him to allow her to travel in order to further her studies of the flora and fauna of island colonies. Her immediate aim is Lisbon, from where she hopes to visit the remote Berlengas. Away from the constraints of society, she takes a further step away from convention and determines to take up residence in a goatherd’s hut on Berlenga Grande, the sole inhabitant of her island paradise. And her explorations bring her to an amazing discovery.



Menorca, where Dawnay travels after she leaves the Berlengas


Rebecca Mascull started out with a question: what if a person with no power or position in society came up with a brilliant scientific idea in times past? Would that idea ever be heard? On one level, Song of the Sea Maid is a fable. Whilst there were women of letters, of course, the idea of a foundling gaining an education and going on to make discoveries of earthshattering magnitude is somewhat akin to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando travelling through time and gender. But Dawnay’s matter-of-fact voice, truly that of a focused scientist, is compellingly real, and the world Mascull creates is detailed, absorbing and wholly believable. The fantasy of a woman forging new avenues of thought in the Enlightenment world is balanced in exactly the right place, and Dawnay’s struggles for acceptance and recognition are never easy.

Song of the Sea Maid is a beautiful read, with a deeply satisfying conclusion, this is a book you will learn from in the best sense of the world. And Menorca (another of Dawnay’s destinations) is now firmly at the top of my wishlist of of places to visit!

Song of the Sea Maid is Rebecca Mascull’s second novel. Her debut, The Visitors, is clamouring on my TBR pile, and I can’t wait! You can find out more about Becca, and read her many fabulous interviews with other writers, here. You can follow her on Twitter here. Rebecca is published by Hodder & Stoughton, and you can find her books here and at all good bookshops. Don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon! You don’t need to have bought the book through them, just click on the link next to the title.

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