AOS Book Reviews


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

Julian Mackrell Review: The Jamaican Affair of 1805 by John Mahon

The Jamaican Affair of 1805In over 40 years of reading nautical fiction, I can honestly say this book is the worst by a comfortable margin. The only positive observation I can make is that Mahon has made a passable attempt to integrate his plot into the Hornblower canon. However, his characterization of Hornblower and Maria are so far removed from Forester's as to be virtually unrecognisable.

I could ramble on at length about the many failings of this book, but life is too short: The Jamaican Affair Of 1805 is a poor example of the genre, poorly conceived and poorly written with no attempt to create any sense of period either in speech or actions. Mahon demonstrates little understanding of the Georgian Royal Navy, nor of the essence of Hornblower, despite claiming to be a long time fan.

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Review: A Call to Arms by William C. Hammond

A Call to ArmsIn the fourth instalment of the Cutler Family Chronicles the action moves to the The First Barbary War and finds Richard Cutler now in command of his own frigate, USS Portsmouth, and his son serving as a Midshipman aboard USS Constitution under Commodore Preble.

The next generation of the family starts to come to the fore in this new book and as they marry Hammond's cast of characters continues to expand. This enables the author to explore the major events of the Barbary wars from the point of view of a Midshipman who can insert himself into the historical timeline more easily than a Captain.

This is an important aspect of Hammond's work as the research and historical accuracy of the tale shine through. Writing from this side of the Atlantic I had heard of the Barbary Wars and of Stephen Decatur's destruction of the USS Philadelphia but knew little else about the conflict. Hammond's narrative is as informative as a non-fiction work but blended with a style that really makes you almost feel part of the Cutler family.

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Julian Mackrell Review: The Devil's Fire by Matt Tomerlin

The Devil's FireI am emphatically not an expert on pirate fiction, but I have read a few and like some of them. Susan Keogh's The Prodigal: A Novel is excellent as is Mark Keating's Fight for Freedom (Patrick Devlin), both of which I would recommend unreservedly to any lover of nautical fiction. I wish I could say the same for Tomerlin's The Devil's Fire ...

I can remember not a single description of ship or sail handling - movement just sort of happens without any apparent involvement from the crew. Nautical terms are sparse: 'main mast', 'capstan' and one or two others are overshadowed by 'floor', 'ceiling', 'wall', 'upstairs' etc. Characterization is poor: it takes far too long to develop any sort of individuality, and at no time could I find anyone remotely likeable, or who I felt any sympathy for, even the principal victim! I also found the plot to be weak: endless fighting and squabbling amongst themselves, but very little else. Had this book been condensed to a few chapters opening book 2 [The Devil's Tide, which I assume continues the story from where this leaves off], then it may have been more successful.

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Review: Hell Around the Horn by Rick Spilman

Hell Around the HornIn the Age of Sail the strength of wind and the height of waves in the southern ocean faced by ships rounding the Horn in winter were infamous, so from a book titled Hell Around the Horn you expect some pretty graphic descriptions of life at sea.  Rick Spilman does not disappoint.

After an introduction from one of the crew in later life, the story starts as the windjammer Lady Rebecca takes on a cargo of coal and signs on crew at Tiger Bay, Cardiff, ready for a voyage to Chile. We then follow the vessel from the point of view of various officers, apprentices and crew, as well as the captain's wife, as it faces seemingly never ending storms and the hardships lead to death and conflict aboard.

With Spilman's graphic writing you get a real feel for the conditions they faced and the hardships of handling these large ships with minimal crew. Though this is a work of fiction it is based around a well documented voyage in the early 1900's, a period rarely covered, and the descriptions of life aboard are as informative as a non-fiction work without overpowering the reader with minute detail.

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Richard Spilman Review: The Patriot’s Fate by Alaric Bond

The Patriot’s FateOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

Alaric Bond's The Patriot's Fate, the fifth in his Fighting Sail series, is an exciting nautical adventure that is also a rich and fascinating voyage through the history, politics and complex divided loyalties of Britain at the end of the eighteenth century.

Many novels in the genre follow the model used by C.S. Forester, Patrick O'Brian and so many others, where the focus is the career of a single Royal Navy officer. The Patriot's Fate, like the other books in Bond's Fighting Sail series, is told through multiple perspectives, ranging from the ship's captain, to the junior officers and warrants, to Jack Tars and the ship's boys. The approach gives a much broader sense of what is going on aboard ship. It works particularly well in The Patriot's Fate because it allows parallel and overlapping story lines that keep the novel moving along briskly.

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Julian Mackrell Review: The Patriot's Fate by Alaric Bond

The Patriot's FateWell, he's done it again! The eagerly anticipated fifth instalment of Alaric Bond's 'Fighting Sail' series is with us at last and it is another corker! Set at the conclusion of the Irish uprising of 1798, with Britain's army brutally putting down the rebellion on land, The Patriot's Fate follows Wolf Tone's attempt to bring a French invasion force to bear while Royal Navy elements desperately seek to prevent them from landing. It is a story of cat-and-mouse on the high seas culminating in a dramatic climax.

As before in this series, the story is told from the viewpoint of several characters rather than just a single hero: most of these are already familiar from earlier books, but we also follow the exploits of a contingent of Irish 'rebels' in equal measure. Bond's skill is to shift perspective between this relatively large cast without in the least disrupting the flow or disorientating the reader, effortlessly weaving these multiple elements into a slow-boiling narrative that informs and entertains in equal measure as tension builds.

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