The Unlikely Master Genius, by Carla Kelly: A Sailing Master in the Royal Navy Finds his Calling

The Unlikely Master Genius ($15.95, 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-683-0), is the first volume in a new trilogy by Carla Kelly. Thanks to his extraordinary intelligence, Able Six survived the workhouse to become a sailing master in the Royal Navy. Forced by the Treaty of Amiens to seek new work, Able brings his new bride to the St. Brendan’s School in Portsmouth, England, where he will teach young boys plucked from the workhouse to be trained as navigators.

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“This sweet Regency story begins with the wedding and leisurely explores what comes after….  Able is a quirky character who seems a little disconnected from the real world and tirelessly quotes his heroes, Euclid, Newton, and Shakespeare, but Kelly smartly surrounds him with charming, street-smart, and sympathetic supporting characters to bring him down to earth.” Read more….
—Publishers Weekly

“It’s always time to rejoice when a new Regency-set series debuts from the imagination of Carla Kelly…. The love scenes are beautifully rendered and bound to keep romance readers enchanted. Carla Kelly is a treasure for all who enjoy great storytelling. Enough mystery and forward motion remain to anticipate the next book in the St. Brendan Series with delight. Highly recommended.” Read more…
—Historical Novel Society

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?

Volume One: The St. Brendan Series.

Says Kelly, “A few years ago I was invited to write a Christmas novella. As I wrote the story of Able Six and his amazing courtship of Miss Meridee Bonfort, I realized I had material for far more than a mere short story. The St. Brendan Series was born, of which The Unlikely Master Genius is volume one. The story is set during the Regency Era at a most unusual school for boys, training them for the fleet during the dark days of the Napoleonic Wars. And Able Six is a bona fide genius.”

A well-known veteran of the romance writing field, Carla Kelly is the author of 42 novels and three non-fiction works, as well as numerous short stories and articles for various publications. Carla’s interest in historical fiction is a byproduct of her lifelong study of history. She has a BA in Latin American History from Brigham Young University and an MA in Indian Wars History from University of Louisiana-Monroe. Carla Kelly is particularly celebrated for her regency romances. The Romance Reader has called her “the Grandmistress of the [Regency] genre.” According to Romantic Times, “Carla Kelly’s Regency Romances are always superb and a timeless delight.” Library Journal wrote, “one of the most respected Regency writers.” For more information, visit Clara on the web here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“In a few weeks, God willing, we will rummage around in Sir Isaac Newton’s brain and see what he thinks,” Able said. Provided I haven’t fouled my anchor here, he thought as he quietly set the useless pointer pieces on the master’s desk. In for a penny, in for a pound.

He sat on the desk. From the horrified expressions on young faces, he quickly gathered that Master Blake had never done anything so vulgar.

“How many of you can swim?” he asked.

No one raised a hand, which did not surprise Able. What workhouse boy was ever given useful training? He waited. A hand went up slowly.

“Yes, Mister … Mister …. What is your name?”

“Jimmy Bawn,” he said promptly. “I’ve heard it’s bad luck to swim. The ocean is unforgiving.”

“Aye, it is, Mister Bawn,” Able replied. “Let us say your ship is shot to pieces and dismasted and you are drifting toward a lee shore. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how to swim that little distance and live to fight another day?”

He watched the boys nod in agreement, their eyes serious.

“We’ll learn to swim, because it’s smarter than drowning. We’ll also become acquainted with Sir Isaac Newton, and another chap named Galileo Galilei,” Able assured them. “Tell me something about yourselves. Are you from workhouses? Did you live on the streets?”

He didn’t think they would admit to such misery. He also knew it was his turn to tell them about himself, and in the telling, build a bond that must grow strong, if they were to feel safe to learn in an unsafe world.

“My name is Durable Six,” he said, and saw the smiles they could not hide. “A ridiculous name, eh? Go ahead and laugh. You have my permission.”

Some of them chuckled.

“I’ll tell you how I got my name. I was found naked and newly born on church steps in Dumfries, Scotland, in February of 1776,” he said. Some of them nodded. “I was the sixth bastard admitted to the Dumfries Workhouse since the start of the new year. The workhouse master waited for me to die—we’ll agree I had a rough start—but when I didn’t, he declared me Durable and named me Durable Six. My friends call me Able. You will call me Master Six, because I am a sailing master in the Royal Navy.”

He watched some of them mouth his name. “Are any of you numbered?”

Two hands went up, the students more confident now, because he was one of them. He gestured for them to stand, well-acquainted with their wary expressions. Almost as if you are wondering when the other shoe will drop and you will be back in the workhouse, he thought with sympathy. Not on my watch. Never.

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