AOS Book Reviews


This section contains reviews of books by David Hayes and members of the forum

Roger Marsh Review: First Rate

First Rate: The Greatest Warships of the Age of SailIt is a rare occurrence indeed to have the great pleasure of receiving quite such a magnificent large-format volume as this, Rif Winfield's First Rate, arriving on one's desk for review

The First Rate ships of the line were indeed, as the book's subtitle indicates, the greatest warships of the Age of Sail. They were the most powerful and the most impressive ships of war (or indeed ships of or for any other purpose) afloat for a period of some two-and-a-half centuries, as well as by far the most expensive vessels both to build and to maintain. Made and conceived to impress as well as to fight, the very size of a First Rate, together with the lavishness and detail of its decoration, was intended to strike awe into all who set eyes on it, whether at home or abroad, and to leave no doubt in the mind of any beholder concerning the might and prestige of the nation and monarch whose flag that ship bore. And, to quote the New York Times book reviewer Richard Snow writing nearly two decades ago now, whose words I can hardly better: "These sailing ships – today reduced to quaint and soothing images on wall calendars – were in their time the most complicated machines on earth, and the deadliest." Indeed, they were.


Review: For Love of Country by William C. Hammond

For Love of CountryThis second book in the Cutler Family Chronicles explores the period when the young nation of America was finding it's feet. It was setting up it's forms of government but in Europe and North Africa was regarded as weak leading to the Barbary States of North Africa preying on it's trading vessels. It's main ally France, who had helped it to independence, was starting to experience it's own problems as revolution drew nearer.

These problems are brought home to the Cutlers when their ship Eagle, with Richard's brother Caleb aboard, is captured by Algerines and the crew is held for Ransom. Government expresses a concern for American seamen held in North Africa and a wish to do something about it but little practical seems to happen. The family must decide to handle the matter themselves and Richard sets off for Algiers.

Whilst there he faces the conflicting demands of his families and his countries interests before sailing for France where he must help an old friend caught up in the growing revolution.

I continue to enjoy this series, especially as reading them on this side of the Atlantic they give an insight into early American politics and international relations. The author weaves these facts into a narrative which flows well and leads you to empathise with his characters.


Review: Peregrine by Michael Aye

PeregrineThis latest episode of the Fighting Anthony's story is again set in Caribbean and American waters during the period when the French first appear on the station after entering the American War of Independence. It sees the family having to deal with a relative of an old nemesis bent on revenge.

As usual the book is fast paced with plenty of action sequences without detailed descriptions of ship handling. Over the series quite a long list of characters has been built up, many of which make an appearance so it was useful to have a character list at the start to refresh the memory.

Whilst set in the historical timeline the books do not seek to insert the principal characters into true events and this gives the author more scope to produce a good yarn with a fresh feel. I continue to enjoy the series which is recommended.


Review: A Matter of Honor by William C. Hammond

A Matter of HonorIf you want to write a novel about an American officer in the Continental Navy based around the facts of the War of Independence you probably have to place him with John Paul Jones on Ranger and Bonhomme Richard. However the major sea battle which decided the war at the Virginia Capes only involved the French Navy. The skill therefore is to bring these two elements together in a believable narrative. Hammond does at excellent job of this whilst at the same time exploring the difficulties of personal relationships when close friends and family, as well as the public at large, find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict with divided loyalties.

The principal character is Richard Cutler whose branch of the family live near Boston and handle the shipping side of the family business whilst other relations are based in England and the Caribbean. When his brother Will is pressed into the Royal Navy and flogged to death the War takes on a new dimension for the young Richard and he joins Ranger as a Midshipman with the aim of avenging his brother's death.


Review: Bring it Close by Helen Hollick

Bring it CloseBook 3 in the Sea Witch series, Bring it Close continues to reveal the lives of the pirate Jesamiah Acorne and the witch Tiola.

When you are an ex pirate trying to stay on the right side of the law and after your fiance finds you have been with another woman she has headed of to the town where an old enemy, the notorious pirate Blackbeard, is based life is bound to get complicated. Couple that with the fact that his fiance is a witch and the 'other woman' is the widow of the brother he murdered and then weave it all into the true story of Blackbeard's final weeks and you have the makings of an excellent story.


Review: The Blast That Tears the Skies by J. D. Davies

The Blast That Tears the SkiesI was pleased when The Blast That Tears the Skies arrived as it meant I would soon know a lot more about the history of Restoration England through the continuing 'Journals of Matthew Quinton'.

When you are used to a diet of fiction about the navies of the Napoleonic wars getting a view of a different period when their foundations were being laid is always refreshing. The navies of the 1660's were very different with courtiers rather than professional sailors making command decisions and as the second Anglo-Dutch war starts the heir to the throne himself is at sea in command and old suspicions between cavaliers and parliamentarians are still rife. Davies weaves all this skillfully into a book which climaxes with the Battle of Lowestoft where over 200 English and Dutch ships engaged in what was the largest naval battle ever fought at the time. This is the first fleet action depicted by the author and it was very well done.

The naval action is woven into a second plot thread which covers both political and court intrigues at a time when the King rather than parliament exercised power and uncovers more of the history of the Quinton family. Protestant England is now going to War with the Protestant Dutch, who are riven with internal tensions between the constituent provinces, and all the while Catholic France is plotting for its own interests. This is all complicated by friendships and marriages from the period when the court was in exile and all takes place while the population of London is being decimated by the Great Plague.