Originally published on the The Old Salt Blog
The just released, A Battle Won by S. Thomas Russell, is classic nautical fiction – vivid, fast paced and full of drama, both on sea and land. Master and Commander Charles Hayden is a gifted naval commander with extremely bad luck. In the previous book, Under Enemy Colors, found himself serving aboard HMS Themis, a frigate with a tyrannical captain and a mutinous crew. Now in A Battle Won, instead of being allowed to take command of his own ship, Hayden is reassigned back to the Themis, a ship with such a bad reputation that no captain wants the command.
Hayden is a “job-captain,” assigned to deliver the ship to Admiral Hood in the Mediterranean, where it is expected that a new captain will be assigned. Captain Hayden and the Themis are also ordered to help guard a convey of merchant ships across the Bay of Biscay in the winter, under the command of an incompetent convoy commander with a very low opinion of Hayden based solely on the poor reputation of the “mutiny ship” Themis. On the voyage, Hayden must deal with a ship’s parson set on undermining his command and a deadly influenza outbreak, in addition to winter gales, the incompetent convoy commander, and French cruisers out to attack the convoy.
The real action begins when Hayden delivers the Themis to Hood, who temporarily leaves Hayden in the command of the frigate and then dispatches him on a mission to Corsica, where the British are helping the Corsicans drive out the French.
What makes A Battle Won so absorbing is simply that Russell writes exceptionally well. It is easy to slip into and be enveloped by the book. The scenes, both on shipboard and in Corsica, are well researched and the characters consistently both vivid and believable. It is, to use the cliché, a real page-turner, and sets us up for the next book in the series where Captain Hayden must again overcome the unfairness and ill fortune that blocks the advancement that he so richly deserves.
The only negative thing I can say about the book is also a positive, depending on your perspective. Captain Hayden and his exploits fit perfectly into the archetype of the historical naval fiction genre. He is a young and talented officer from a good background, yet held back by family history. He has more enemies than allies in the Admiralty yet ultimately rises in the rank through sheer ability. This brief bio applies to Charles Hayden, yet could also be applied to Jack Aubrey, Richard Bolitho, Horatio Hornblower and perhaps a score of others. What makes A Battle Won distinctive is that Russell’s story telling. While reading the book, I felt at home, in comfortable surroundings. While the territory is familiar, it still seems fresh and original.
My one recurring complaint with much of traditional naval fiction is that it can be chronically episodic. Russell succeeds in avoiding this in A Battle Won. The major sections of the book, separated by diverting intermissions, end up feeling all part of the whole. Very nicely done.
A Battle Won will be savored by fans of historical naval fiction and will be a delight for those new to the genre. Highly recommended.
Description of: A Battle Won
Author: S. Thomas Russell