Originally published on the The Old Salt Blog
There have been hundreds of novels written about dashing Royal Navy ships' captains who bear a striking resemblance to Lord Cochrane. The resemblance and family history are most obvious in Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower, but a dozen or so other worthy fictional officers share the same heritage. It is therefore pleasing to see that Tom Grundner has tapped another naval hero from history, the intriguing and multi-faceted Sir Sidney Smith, whose colorful and often controversial naval career would span from the American Revolution through the end of the Napoleonic wars.
His latest novel, The Temple, begins with Sir Sidney locked in the French prison by that name. It follows his daring escape and return to England only to be dispatched the Gibraltar under the command of an admiral who despises him, a diplomatic mission to the the Ottoman court, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and Nelson's victory at the Nile. The novel is sweeping in scope, fast paced and a fun read.
Grundner obviously enjoys the history of the period and at times gets a bit too caught up in exposition. Because he writes about an actual historical character, he is more constrained than other writers of nautical adventure novels, so in The Temple, his main character is off on a diplomatic mission in Constantinople while Nelson is winning his decisive victory at the Nile. This can give the narrative a slightly off balance feel as the reader spends a long time away from Sir Sidney. On the other hand, the action at the battle is too much fun (at least from the reader's standpoint) to miss.
A few details here and there which bothered me. There is a scene where tars on a Royal Navy ship sing a short haul shanty while pumping. This would be odd enough, but in addition to being the wrong shanty, sea shanties were generally not allowed on Royal Navy ships of the period. There are also editing errors that a slipped through, such as the combatants at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. These are not a big deal, but the glitches were a distraction.
Quibbles aside, it is great to have a new fresh voice in the genre. The Cochrane clones have taken us for a jolly ride, but a new hero is always welcome and Sir Sidney Smith is an entertaining one indeed.
Description of: The Temple
Author: Tom Grundner