AOS Book Reviews


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

The Guinea BoatOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

Alaric Bond's latest novel, The Guinea Boat, is set in the south-east of England during the brief Peace of Amiens of 1803. Two young men, Nat and Alex, meet in the coastal village of Hastings and become friends. Both are outsiders. Nat has left home seeking to make his way in the world and is a stranger in the village, whereas Alex is the son of a local Revenue officer, who died under mysterious circumstances, leaving Alex an outcast in a village which depends on smuggling as well as fishing for its livelihood. While England and France are no longer at war, no one expects the peace to last, and life in Hastings and along the coast is anything but peaceful. Family feuds, the ongoing struggle between smugglers and the preventative men, as well as intrigues with the French, each have their own risks and dangers.

After being caught up and then unexpectedly freed from a hot press, Nat and Alex go their separate ways. Alex follows his father's path and joins the Revenue Service, while Nat charts a more nefarious course into smuggling and free-lance espionage. The action takes place at sea, as well as on both sides of the English Channel. Fans of Bond's "Fighting Sail" series will not be disappointed in this fast paced tale even if the Royal Navy stays largely in port. The smugglers prove as challenging and formidable a foe as the French. Highly recommended.

Blackwell’s HomecomingOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

In V.E. Ulett's new novel, Blackwell's Homecoming, Captain James Blackwell, his wife Mercedes and their family have returned to Great Britain, after an extended sojourn in the Pacific. Yet, is Britain still their home? The family is quickly caught up in the politics of the Admiralty and the requirements of society. Captain Blackwell is called away to command a fireship in Lord Cochrane's attack on Basque Roads, where he his seriously wounded and rescued by his son, Aloka, now a Royal Navy lieutenant. Back in London, during a state visit by the King and Queen of Hawaii, Captain Blackwell accepts the position of British consul-general to the Sandwich Islands. The voyage back to Hawaii will prove challenging and dangerous, as well.

Blackwell's Homecoming is the third of V.E. Ulett's Blackwell's Adventure series. There is no shortage of adventure. The pacing is fast, the action dramatic and well portrayed. The books, however, are much more than simply "adventure." They are a wonderful portrait of a complex family, bound by duty and driven by love. As I commented in my review of Captain Blackwell's Prize, the first book of the series, this "is the sort of novel that readers of C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian can enjoy along with fans of Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier." All three books of the series, while full of action, are also romances, in the very best sense of the word. In the midst of the black powder smoke and the raging storms at sea, these are also finely drawn tales of fascinating characters, who as a reader, I ended up caring about very much indeed. Highly recommended.

The Threat in the West IndiesBook three of 'The Merriman Chronicles', The Threat in the West Indies, continues the now familiar mix of naval action and espionage. Merriman is now in command of the new three masted sloop Aphrodite with orders to sail to the West Indies where he is to be under the orders of the spy Mr Grahame. The book follows the ship as it moves from island to island engaging privateers and seeking out French spies sowing dissent on the British Islands. Eventually they join the British combined force as they  invade the French controlled islands.

This book is a good fit with the previous two and continues the stories of the well rounded characters but in places the narrative seemed a bit sparse. There were also some errors which could be easily rectified with some copy editing. However, the errors were minor and if you are enjoying the series can be easily ignored.

The Elephant VoyageI like to learn new things from history and Joan Druett's The Elephant Voyage revealed the fascinating story of one sealing ship and the fates of it's crew in a narrative that was educational from start to finish. There are two sections to the book, firstly an account of the voyage where some of the crew find themselves abandoned on a desolate, wind-swept island in the Southern Ocean, while hunting for elephant seals in the 1880's, and secondly the public outcry and political ramifications in New Zealand of their rescue.

Captain Sanford Miner outfitted the schooner Sarah W. Hunt and recruited an inexperienced crew. After getting to Macquarie Island, a tiny island between Tasmania and Antarctica, they find the beaches devoid of seals and go on to Campbell Island, another rocky outcrop in the Southern Ocean, where the captain sends the mates and crew off in two whale boats to search for seals. Blown out to sea in a storm one boat barely manages to get back to shore after several days only to find the ship gone.

The captain, deciding the crew was lost, had sailed to New Zealand assisted only by the cook. For the reader the Captain is now the villain of the piece but you have to admire the feat of seamanship in getting safely to port. His arrival leads to calls for a rescue mission to search for survivors which starts the political wrangling. The crew are rescued but the consequences are surprising as the courts, politicians, the press and the US consul are all drawn into the story.

This book was interesting, not just for the story outlined above, but for it's insights into both life in New Zealand at this time and also the establishment by them of huts and stores on the various remote islands for the use of castaways and what can be regarded as an early move towards modern search and rescue.

The Sea LeopardThis book starts with Isam Rais on his first voyage in his new xebec, the Sea Leopard, and he soon finds himself in action against a Sardinian frigate. Badly damaged in the action he returns to port with little to show for his effort other than the enmity of a fellow muslim captain.

To repair his fortune he accepts an anti-pirate mission against his fellow muslims from the Dey but unpopular in the port must ship females to help crew the ship, a decision that will change his destiny. Succesful in his mission but badly wounded he returns to port but Spain declares war and he is put in command of the defensive force. A rich prize comes his way but then surprised and outnumbered he must fight for his life.

There is plenty of naval action and as always in this series it is interesting to see it from the corsairs perspective. It also fills in the back story of Isam Rais family and home.

The storyline is well written, fast paced and hard to put down. It was an enjoyable read which is highly recommended

A Pirate's Tale: The Sea FoxAccused of a papist plot in Reastoration England Jon Nostrum, son of a knight, wakes to find himself as a seaman aboard a ship owned by Edmund Stanton a ruthless Jamaican businessman who has coerced Kath Ellis.

To escape Stanton the crew mutiny and Jon finds he now has a new career as a pirate captain with a powerful enemy bent on revenge. But how will the intervention of Sir Henry Morgan, former buccaneer and now Governor of Jamaia, affect things. 

At it's heart this is a fairly standard will the girl run off with the pirate plot but it is very well written with a storyline that is well paced with rounded characters that are far more believable than some of the Pirates of the Carribbean caricatures. I enjoyed reading it and would purchase a sequel if one were written.


© 2008-2015 David Hayes (Astrodene)