Broadsides (1940) is the first-person narrative of a life filled with adventure. Raised in a castle in remote Galway, Edward O'Corboy is an Irish patriot who bitterly resents England's rule in Ireland. Slightly more rational than his peers, he does not extend his antipathy for England to the extent of wanting to murder every Englishman on sight. When his father is killed in an internecine quarrel among Irish freedom fighters, Edward vows revenge on MacMurrough, the duelist who pulled the trigger. It is 1790 and England is about to go to war with revolutionary France. Since MacMurrough holds a commission in the French navy, O'Corboy joins the Royal Navy as the best way to get at MacMurrough, incurring the hatred of his Irish family and neighbors.
Fortunately, O'Corboy's drinking and fencing buddy from Trinity College, Giles Grant, is the son of Admiral Lord Grant, one of the Admiralty lords, whose patronage O'Corboy enjoys for the remainder of the book. His rise from midshipman to post-captain encompasses the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Not counting minor actions, Edward O'Corboy participates in the Siege of Toulon, the Glorious First of June, Cape St. Vincent, the Siege of Acre alongside Sir Sydney Smith, and, in command of a first-rate ship, Trafalgar. He achieves revenge, works off his debt of gratitude to Lord Grant and learns whether or not the Irish lass with the snapping eyes will accept his love.
This is not your typical novel of Historic Naval Fiction. O'Corboy moves through the story with a few extraordinary, well-drawn characters; some gallant officers and midshipmen appear briefly; individual ratings and seamen, however, are not part of the tale. Praised collectively for their courage, seamanship and gunnery and always there to raise a "huzzah," they remain a faceless backdrop to the action. Daly does not unduly trouble the reader with details of handling a ship or serving a gun. Still, when technical issues - especially about gunnery - intrude on the story, Daly makes sure the reader understands what is going on. He does not stint on the tactics of fighting a ship and the descriptions of fleet actions are particularly well done, as are the passages featuring Sir Sydney Smith.
Daly's prose is not the straightforward language of the 21st Century adventure novel. Allusive and lightly ironic, occasionally leaving the reader to reach an unstated conclusion, this writer requires a bit more attention than we may be used to. It could take you a few pages to get in synch with Daly's voice. The pleasure of following this sweeping story will repay your perseverance.
Description of: Broadsides
Author: R. W. Daly