AOS Book Reviews


This section contains reviews of AOS books by David Hayes and members of the forum (Modern Era Reviews)

The French PrizeOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

For fans of his “Revolution at Sea Saga,” Jame’s Nelson’s The French Prize is an introduction to the next generation. Isaac Biddlecombe, the Revolutionary War naval hero of the previous saga, has a son, Jack, coming of age in the young American republic. The novel is set during the so-called Quasi-War, an undeclared war fought almost entirely at sea between the United States of America and the French Republic from 1798 to 1800. Jack Biddlecombe is a skilled sailor and ship’s officer, while also a bit of a hot-head and a brawler. He has been given his first command, the merchant ship Abigail, bound for Barbados. Concerned about the danger of French privateers in the West Indies, the ship owner has six pound cannon installed on the deck of the ship. Oddly, the ship owner also happens to be one of his father’s political rivals. As Jack sails for the West Indies, toward the guns of a French warship, he is wholly unaware of the layers of political intrigue that surround the voyage.

In addition to duels, storms, and battles at sea, Nelson gives Jack Biddlecome an engaging passenger for the trip in the form of William Wentworth, of the “Boston Wentworths”, the son of wealth and position, who seems in equal parts amused, annoyed and intrigued by the young captain. When they aren’t literally trying to kill each other, they become allies of sorts. I would not be surprised to see William Wentworth in future books of the series. The French Prize is a fun and engaging read.

The Pirate CaptainIf you are looking for a pirate fiction 'fix' I do not think you will regret picking up The Pirate Captain by Kerry Lynne. The book follows the lives and interactions of a particular crew, their friends and their enemies in a well thought out plot. The characterisations are strong and the pirate characters are not the caricatures of the big and small screens. Yes they are pirates and yes they can be ruthless but at the same time they are a sort of family. The captain, Nathan, and the principal female character Cate both have good back stories that are slowly revealed.

As an AOS book it was good but it is also a good romance novel with a 'will they, won't they' suspense element.

I found it a well written narrative with a plot that made it hard to put down and which left me wanting more when it ended even though it was a lengthy 620 pages. With the Kindle version currently available for £5.79 this makes it excellent value for money. 

Highly recommended.

The ShantymanIf you want to be taken to the deck of a clipper in the mountainous seas of a southern ocean gale, Rick Spilman is the author for you. His description of life at sea in such vessels are vivid and bring to life the conditions faced by the officers and crew of such vessels.

In his latest book, The Shantyman, he tells the story of one such crew, on the Alahambra, voyaging from Sydney to New York in 1870. Jack Barlow is hoisted aboard paralytic drunk but proves to be not just an able shantyman, but when the captain dies and the murderous mate is washed overboard, the man who will pull the crew together and as the new captain get them home. Facing the southern ocean ice and later a hurricane, he overcomes his tragic past to get them to safety and restart his life.

Successful, tragedy strikes again, but will the crew he has saved now rally round and manage to save him.

A fast paced and well written story of life at sea and also of New York at this time. Hard to put down and highly recommended.

Eleanor’s OdysseyAt the height of the Napoleonic wars East Indiamen faced the perils of a long hazardous voyage and enemy privateers to bring the wealth of the far east back to England. Shortly after the war ended the The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China, and Australia began a serialisation of the diaries of Eleanor Reid who accompanied her husband Hugh, the captain of the Indiaman Friendship, on one such voyage from Ireland to New South Wales, the South Sea, the Spice Islands, Bengal, and then back to Europe between 1799 and 1801. In her latest book Eleanor's Odyssey, award winning author Joan Druett has brought to life this long forgotten manuscript.

Eleanor must have been a keen observer as she brings to life not just her time aboard ship at sea and in port but also the flora and fauna and the life of both the European and native populations in the places visited. Druett has enhanced what would have been an interesting read on it's own by preceding each chapter with a well researched commentary of what is known about the ship, crew, passengers, events and places visited. A wealth of detail that brings the period to life for the reader. The book concludes with a chapter on what happened to Eleanor and her husband in the years following the voyage.

This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in learning more about life both in the far east at the time and aboard an East Indiaman. Highly Recommended

The Unfortunate IslesM. C. Muir's The Unfortunate Isles is the fourth novel in her 'Under Admiralty Orders - The Oliver Quintrell Series' and starts with Quintrell and the Frigate Perpetual back at sea after a long stay at anchor in Gibraltar. Badly in need of careening they find a sheltered cove in the Azores, a decision which brings him into conflict with a ruthless pirate.

As usual the author has chosen a setting for her work that is not often the focus of a naval fiction novel, in this case the Azores, as well as including an appearance by the Portuguese Navy. Quintrell is a very believable character who comes up with a devious plot to overcome the pirate.

All aspects of the story, the characters lives, seamanship, the conditions encountered and the history are well written and woven into a very believable and easy to read plot.

Both the book and the series as a whole are highly recommended reading.

The Guinea BoatAlaric Bond's The Guinea Boat is the second novel he has written which departs from his Fighting Sail series. It is based around Hastings on the South Coast of England during the Peace of Amiens of 1803. The narrative switches focus between two young men, Nat and Alex, initially strangers who meet and become friends but find themselves on opposite sides of the struggle between the Revenue and the smugglers.

The boys are both outsiders to the close knit community of fishermen who are mostly involved in smuggling and therefore suspicious of Nat a newcomer to the town and Alex the son of a former local Revenue officer. Nat finds work with a fisherman who is also a bit of an outcast and has ambitious plans to have his own boat. After being caught by a hot press, the boys are freed when the tender they are on is attacked by the smugglers but they soon go their separate ways, Alex to join the revenue and Nat to join a smugglers craft.

Nat soon forms plans to fund his own craft by spying on the French and gets a surprise when he eventually meets the leader of the smugglers. A well paced story featuring various South Coast towms and action in the English Channel with a disparate bunch of interesting characters on both sides of the Smuggling/Revenue divide. Highly recommended.

© 2008-2015 David Hayes (Astrodene)