Originally published on the The Old Salt Blog
Whereas most nautical adventure fiction follows the same general format - tracking the exploits of a young ship's officer, Alaric Bond takes a refreshingly different tack. His latest novel, His Majesty's Ship does not focus on a single hero but follows multiple officers and crew of the 64 gun HMS Vigilant. His range of characters and his use of multiple points of view makes the novel feel fresh, original, and competely authentic. It makes for a very fun read.
Bond's use of multiple points of view solves several inherent problems in writing about the Georgian Navy. One of my complaints with several of the authors currently writing is that their novels tend to be highly episodic. There is the need to find something interesting for the protagonist to do to hold the reader's interest. In Bond's His Majesty's Ship, the officers, crew and to a large extent the ship itself provide the action. The shifting points of view capture the constant bustle of life aboard the HMS Vigilant; from Matthew, the young volunteer, who is literally learning the ropes; to the friction in the wardroom between Lt. Rogers, a mediocre officer born of wealth and influence, and his less affluent fellow officers; to the challenges faced by Captain Shepard, who must mold his highly mixed crew into some sort of coherent team capable of surviving Atlantic storms as well as the French.
What is remarkable is that Bond pulls this off so gracefully. His characters start as vivid cameos who grow into well rounded individuals as the book progresses. These multiple points of view allow Bond to to develop a nuanced portrait of the complex social and political order aboard ship. Writers have often portrayed ships in the age of sail as one of two stereotypes. Jack Aubrey's ships are invariably a "band of brothers" while Melville's Whitejacket leans more toward "sodomy, rum, and the lash." Bond's HMS Vigilant is a wonderful mix from across the spectrum.
There are indeed Jolly Jack Tars, happy to be sailors; right alongside pressed men, angry with their fate; as well as Irishmen, caught by the press, who would be more than happy to bring their own rebellion against the crown in action aboard ship. Ambitious young lieutenants rub elbows with wizened petty officers. We see desertion, flogging, and attempted murder, as well as loyalty, courage, valor and wit. Rather than a single perspective, Bond's HMS Vigilant is a tapestry of both the competing and cooperative aspirations of the various and varied officers and crew.
Bond's writing flows easily. It is well crafted and stylish without calling undue attention to itself. I felt completely drawn into the book, into the ship itself, from the cramped and airless gundeck to dizzying heights of the cross-trees. I found myself reading slowly, because I was so enjoying the language, the characters and the real sense of being aboard Bond's HMS Vigilant.
I highly recommend Alaric Bond's His Majesty's Ship.
Description of: His Majesty's Ship
Author: Alaric Bond