Ramage and the Drumbeat
by Dudley Pope
No. 2 of the Lord Ramage Novels, originally published in 1967, continues the 18-book series of naval exploits of Nicholas Ramage, the anointed successor to Horatio Hornblower. In this adventure, our ideal young hero is given pretty clear orders: (1) Take command of the cutter Kathleen; (2) Convey an Italian count and marchesa (the latter being, by chance, Ramage's true love) to the British port of Gibraltar; (3) avoid risking the safety of these passengers if at all possible.
Nevertheless, Ramage puts a loose construction on these orders when he sees a Spanish frigate that has been dismasted by a sudden squall. With great daring, he captures the larger ship and takes it in tow. At first, fortune seems to favor the bold. But then things start to unravel. First, Ramage gets separated from his beloved Gianna. Then he and his crew are captured by a Spanish fleet. Held prisoner in Cartagena, Ramage joins several of his men in a masquerading as American sailors who are protected from conscription - a ruse that could get them hanged for espionage if their true British nationality is discovered. And since there's no sense risking the noose for spying without actually spying, they gather some important intelligence that must be passed on to the British fleet. And that means escaping.
By this point, Ramage & The Drumbeat has already delivered enough saltwater adventure to fill a satisfying novel. But when Ramage rejoins the fleet, the main event is still warming up. For the date is approaching 14 February 1797, and the place is the Atlantic off Cape St. Vincent, and a crucial naval battle in the war between Britain and Spain is about to take place. Admiral Jervis (later Lord St. Vincent) and Commodore Nelson command the stage. You're about to have front-row seats at an event that actually happened, a battle that helped make the era that we fans of Hornblower and Jack Aubrey love to relive. And, unsung by history but plain for your mind's eye to see, young Ramage and his cutter's crew have a pivotal role to play.
Dudley Pope puts us there with a high level of authenticity owing to his own experience as a sailor, war journalist, and naval historian. He rivets us with his depiction of a studly young officer and his keen eye for vivid description. And he lifts a historic battle off the flat page and with it crafts an exciting, hold-your-breath suspenseful account. Though some of the customs and quirks of naval service in the late 18th and early 19th century are hard to convert into the currency of modern experience, I think Mr. Pope offers an attractive rate of exchange. Whenever my fantasy life grows tired of tales of magic, this era is where it goes to refresh itself. I am grateful to Mr. Pope for opening a window on it.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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