When she is read at all these days DK Broster is read for her much better known Jacobite Trilogy, consisting of The Flight of the Heron, The Gleam in the North, and The Dark Mile, and also for a collection of horror shorts Couching at the Door. With Ships in the Bay she returns to her earlier favourite period, the French Revolution.
It is 1796 in St Davids in Wales, and the heroine, Nest Meredith is the daughter of the Precentor of the Cathedral. (If you have never been to St Davids and get the chance, do go because the Cathedral is well worth a look) A chance encounter with a young seaman, deserted from a privateer, leads her into more adventure than she could have ever expected. The seaman is no such thing, but the son of an English country parson, thrown into a nightmare where Bow St runners are on his trail with a warrant for treason. After Nest hears his story she agrees to help him, and gains him a post with a local antiquarian. The climax of the novel is the (real) landing of the French the following spring, and Broster has carefully woven her tale in with the real history of that event.
This was another of my mother’s books and I first read it when I was about fourteen, I think. I never much cared for the Jacobite Trilogy, but I always loved this book. There is romance but it’s very much a subplot and the real story is how Martin, the hero, extricates himself from his problems.
For more discussion about Broster’s novels see this article.