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In the fourth novel of his adventures, Revolutionary War-era British naval hero Richard Bolitho gets his first command: the fighting sloop Sparrow. Barely into his twenties, a seaman from boyhood and the scion of a long line of seamen, Bolitho now gets his first taste of the loneliness of the captain’s cabin, the full responsibility for his ship’s success or failure, the danger of serving under a flotilla captain whose ambition is greater than his ability, and a passion for a woman who will try to kill him the moment he crosses her interests.
Now, I could rattle off a blow-by-blow account of the actions in this book, including exquisitely suspenseful sorties up the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, and the character conflicts—such as, in particular, the friction between Bolitho’s first and second lieutenants, one of whom is himself a colonist at war with the country of his birth. But you might as well take it on faith that there are a lot of goings-on, some explosive and others of the slow-burning variety, in this book full of character and incident; and that it is well worth the time of anyone who has an interest in the golden era of naval warfare. In fact, I believe this series has a popular appeal that could bring new readers to the genre.
Face it, Alexander Kent (whose real name is Douglas Reeman) is no C. S. Forester or Patrick O’Brian. His fiction does not have the depth and richness of the Hornblower or Aubrey-Maturin sagas. But if the tradeoff for profound literary merit is brute sex appeal, this book may make the sale. To put it crassly, you can tell which end of the naval-historical-novel spectrum a book is on—the sliding scale between “literary treasure” and “essential beach-or-poolside accessory”—by how good the hero is meant to look with his shirt off, and how much of his time he spends that way. Except while bathing under the deck pump or over the ship’s side, Horatio H. and Jack A. were never seen in less than full uniform outside the privacy of their quarters; and the world heaves a grateful shudder for it. Meanwhile, our Dick B. seems to make a habit of strutting the deck in little more than his breeches, and to judge by the reactions of onlookers… Yes, girls, there may be something in naval warfare for you too!