AOS Book Reviews


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

Barbary SlaveBarbary Slave follows the adventures of American sailor James Cathcart as his ship is taken by Barbary pirates and he spends the following eleven years as a slave of the Dey of Algiers while American politicians refuse to pay ransom.

The book is largely set ashore as Cathcart works his way through the slave hierarchy and his character is used to explore the interaction between Christian slaves and their Muslim captors both at the local level and in international diplomacy. It also brings out the internal tensions in the region between the Turks and the various Arab factions.

In reading age of sail fiction you frequently come across sections about the Barbary pirates and whilst there is little sea action in the book, this is to some extent it's attraction as I enjoyed the insight this detailed study of the realities of both life ashore as a slave and of the situation from the point of view from the Dey of Algiers gave me.

The book had good characterisations and the various aspects of the plot were brought together in a well written and well paced narrative that was good to read. Recommended.

A Certain ThreatA Certain Threat is the first book in a new series about the Merriman family and if subsequent books keep up this standard it will be a good one. The plot follows the adventures of James Merriman as he is promoted, given a new ship, the sloop Aphrodite, and sent off to the Irish Sea to deal with smugglers, traitors and espionage.

The book has a full cast of well rounded characters surrounding Merriman in the form of his family, friends and crew. As Burnage unravels the mystery of who is plotting against England the focus is skilfully shifted in awell paced narrative that is hard to put down.  

Part of the novel is based around activities ashore but it was well blended with the naval action. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this new addition to the naval fiction family and look forward to reading more.


The Beckoning IceThe Beckoning Ice is a mystery novel and, as you would expect from award winning historian Joan Druett, an extremely well written nautical novel as well. The plot of a great mystery novel must twist and turn and be totally unpredictable until the final pages and this is fully achieved in a hard to put down narrative.

Druett has  created a great detective in Wiki Coffin with a complex family background which enables him to be the outsider when the plot demands it and it's good to see a new book in the series after a lengthy gap. He is half-Maori, half-Yankee "linguister," who also serves  as the fleet representative of American law and order for the United States Exploring Expedition.

The story is set against a background of their work in the area of Cape Horn and when a sealing schooner hails the brig Swallow with a strange tale of a murdered corpse on an iceberg an investigation begins. The rivalries of the officers of the various ships lead to there being plenty of suspects for Wiki to investigate. 

Combining historical and nautical accuracy with a fast paced mystery thriller has produced a marvelous book which is highly recommended.

The Tainted PrizeThe Tainted Prize sees the return of Captain Oliver Quintrell now in command of the frigate HMS Perpetual and once again tasked with a special mission to the southern seas by the Admiralty. His orders are to find a missing frigate even if he has to follow it all the way to the Pacific and there are some unexpected encounters on the voyage as well as some diplomacy needed.

He is joined on the voyage by some familiar characters from the previous book, Floating Gold, as well as some new ones. The book follows both officers and members of the crew, particularly an escaped slave, Eku, and a powder monkey, Tommy Wainwright. Muir's charecterisations are excellent and I particularly enjoyed Wainright's interactions with the Captain. In Quintrell we have a very believable captain. He does not make friends within his crew but an ordinary humane person who is well respected. 

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. Highly recommended.

The Beckoning IceOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

Joan Druett's The Beckoning Ice, the fifth in her series of Wiki Coffin nautical mysteries, begins in 1839, on the sealer Betsey of Stonington, homeward bound from "a short but very profitable season far south of Cape Horn." The schooner is very nearly wrecked on a massive iceberg, which looms suddenly out of the fog. The terror of nearly hitting the ice island is only made worse by the corpse of a man, apparently bludgeoned to dead, frozen on a ledge on the face of the ice.

The Tainted PrizeOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

The Tainted Prize is Margaret Muir's second book of the Oliver Quintrell series. After sending Captain Quintrell to the bottom of the world in pursuit of Floating Gold, the admiralty is confident in the good captain's discretion. It is 1803. The Peace of Amiens has collapsed. Captain Quintrell is given command of the frigate HMS Perpetual and is set off on a secret mission to South America to search for a missing frigate and to undertake a diplomatic mission that might impact the outcome of the war with Bonaparte and France. In addition to coping with French corvettes, privateers and slavers, Quintrell and the officers and crew of HMS Perpetual must also face the Southern Ocean and the winding and treacherous Straits of Magellan.

© 2008-2015 David Hayes (Astrodene)