AOS Book Reviews


This section contains reviews of AOS books by David Hayes and members of the forum (Modern Era Reviews)

The ShantymanIf you want to be taken to the deck of a clipper in the mountainous seas of a southern ocean gale, Rick Spilman is the author for you. His description of life at sea in such vessels are vivid and bring to life the conditions faced by the officers and crew of such vessels.

In his latest book, The Shantyman, he tells the story of one such crew, on the Alahambra, voyaging from Sydney to New York in 1870. Jack Barlow is hoisted aboard paralytic drunk but proves to be not just an able shantyman, but when the captain dies and the murderous mate is washed overboard, the man who will pull the crew together and as the new captain get them home. Facing the southern ocean ice and later a hurricane, he overcomes his tragic past to get them to safety and restart his life.

Successful, tragedy strikes again, but will the crew he has saved now rally round and manage to save him.

A fast paced and well written story of life at sea and also of New York at this time. Hard to put down and highly recommended.

Eleanor’s OdysseyAt the height of the Napoleonic wars East Indiamen faced the perils of a long hazardous voyage and enemy privateers to bring the wealth of the far east back to England. Shortly after the war ended the The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China, and Australia began a serialisation of the diaries of Eleanor Reid who accompanied her husband Hugh, the captain of the Indiaman Friendship, on one such voyage from Ireland to New South Wales, the South Sea, the Spice Islands, Bengal, and then back to Europe between 1799 and 1801. In her latest book Eleanor's Odyssey, award winning author Joan Druett has brought to life this long forgotten manuscript.

Eleanor must have been a keen observer as she brings to life not just her time aboard ship at sea and in port but also the flora and fauna and the life of both the European and native populations in the places visited. Druett has enhanced what would have been an interesting read on it's own by preceding each chapter with a well researched commentary of what is known about the ship, crew, passengers, events and places visited. A wealth of detail that brings the period to life for the reader. The book concludes with a chapter on what happened to Eleanor and her husband in the years following the voyage.

This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in learning more about life both in the far east at the time and aboard an East Indiaman. Highly Recommended

The Unfortunate IslesM. C. Muir's The Unfortunate Isles is the fourth novel in her 'Under Admiralty Orders - The Oliver Quintrell Series' and starts with Quintrell and the Frigate Perpetual back at sea after a long stay at anchor in Gibraltar. Badly in need of careening they find a sheltered cove in the Azores, a decision which brings him into conflict with a ruthless pirate.

As usual the author has chosen a setting for her work that is not often the focus of a naval fiction novel, in this case the Azores, as well as including an appearance by the Portuguese Navy. Quintrell is a very believable character who comes up with a devious plot to overcome the pirate.

All aspects of the story, the characters lives, seamanship, the conditions encountered and the history are well written and woven into a very believable and easy to read plot.

Both the book and the series as a whole are highly recommended reading.

The Guinea BoatAlaric Bond's The Guinea Boat is the second novel he has written which departs from his Fighting Sail series. It is based around Hastings on the South Coast of England during the Peace of Amiens of 1803. The narrative switches focus between two young men, Nat and Alex, initially strangers who meet and become friends but find themselves on opposite sides of the struggle between the Revenue and the smugglers.

The boys are both outsiders to the close knit community of fishermen who are mostly involved in smuggling and therefore suspicious of Nat a newcomer to the town and Alex the son of a former local Revenue officer. Nat finds work with a fisherman who is also a bit of an outcast and has ambitious plans to have his own boat. After being caught by a hot press, the boys are freed when the tender they are on is attacked by the smugglers but they soon go their separate ways, Alex to join the revenue and Nat to join a smugglers craft.

Nat soon forms plans to fund his own craft by spying on the French and gets a surprise when he eventually meets the leader of the smugglers. A well paced story featuring various South Coast towms and action in the English Channel with a disparate bunch of interesting characters on both sides of the Smuggling/Revenue divide. Highly recommended.

The Guinea BoatOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

Alaric Bond's latest novel, The Guinea Boat, is set in the south-east of England during the brief Peace of Amiens of 1803. Two young men, Nat and Alex, meet in the coastal village of Hastings and become friends. Both are outsiders. Nat has left home seeking to make his way in the world and is a stranger in the village, whereas Alex is the son of a local Revenue officer, who died under mysterious circumstances, leaving Alex an outcast in a village which depends on smuggling as well as fishing for its livelihood. While England and France are no longer at war, no one expects the peace to last, and life in Hastings and along the coast is anything but peaceful. Family feuds, the ongoing struggle between smugglers and the preventative men, as well as intrigues with the French, each have their own risks and dangers.

After being caught up and then unexpectedly freed from a hot press, Nat and Alex go their separate ways. Alex follows his father's path and joins the Revenue Service, while Nat charts a more nefarious course into smuggling and free-lance espionage. The action takes place at sea, as well as on both sides of the English Channel. Fans of Bond's "Fighting Sail" series will not be disappointed in this fast paced tale even if the Royal Navy stays largely in port. The smugglers prove as challenging and formidable a foe as the French. Highly recommended.

Blackwell’s HomecomingOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

In V.E. Ulett's new novel, Blackwell's Homecoming, Captain James Blackwell, his wife Mercedes and their family have returned to Great Britain, after an extended sojourn in the Pacific. Yet, is Britain still their home? The family is quickly caught up in the politics of the Admiralty and the requirements of society. Captain Blackwell is called away to command a fireship in Lord Cochrane's attack on Basque Roads, where he his seriously wounded and rescued by his son, Aloka, now a Royal Navy lieutenant. Back in London, during a state visit by the King and Queen of Hawaii, Captain Blackwell accepts the position of British consul-general to the Sandwich Islands. The voyage back to Hawaii will prove challenging and dangerous, as well.

Blackwell's Homecoming is the third of V.E. Ulett's Blackwell's Adventure series. There is no shortage of adventure. The pacing is fast, the action dramatic and well portrayed. The books, however, are much more than simply "adventure." They are a wonderful portrait of a complex family, bound by duty and driven by love. As I commented in my review of Captain Blackwell's Prize, the first book of the series, this "is the sort of novel that readers of C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian can enjoy along with fans of Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier." All three books of the series, while full of action, are also romances, in the very best sense of the word. In the midst of the black powder smoke and the raging storms at sea, these are also finely drawn tales of fascinating characters, who as a reader, I ended up caring about very much indeed. Highly recommended.

© 2008-2016 David Hayes (Astrodene)