by Dudley Pope
I have read every word C. S. Forester wrote about Horatio Hornblower. I have navigated all twenty Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian. I can add several other novels of naval adventure to this list. Each one that I read makes me want more. Where can I turn next?
I decided the answer would be this book, the first in a series of 18 novels following the career of Hornblower contemporary Nicholas Ramage. Set amid the saltwater battlefields of the wars between Napoleon and George III, they build on Dudley Pope's experience as a naval historian, journalist, and wartime sailor.
I was not at all disappointed. Ramage is an intriguing commander. He doesn't have Jack Aubrey's mathematical genius or Hornblower's tortured conscience, but he nevertheless brings the instincts and conflicts of a born naval captain to vivid life. Young Ramage lives under the stigma of his father's court-martial conviction (loosely based on the notorious Byng case). His political enemies within the service are nearly as dangerous as the French. But not quite.
We first meet Ramage coming out of a daze after being struck on the head by a large splinter. A bigger and better-armed French ship is in the process of sinking his ship. The captain and first lieutenant have been killed, which puts Ramage in command just in time to abandon ship. He and his surviving crew make a daring escape and attempt to carry out their assignment on the coast of Italy, in spite of not having a ship to do it in. One of the nobles they rescue from certain death on the guillotine turns out to be the love of Nicholas's life. Whatever happens to him afterward - whether narrow escapes, or courts martial, or a daring rescue under the guns of a much larger ship - his life will be all the more precious, because it is no longer his own.
What a delight it is to be back at sea, even if only a sea of words! The winds, the canvas, the timbers and cordage, the salt and the sun, the smell of smoke, the boom of guns! Yes, yes, yes! I can hardly wait to begin on Ramage & the Drumbeat, next in this series. Plus, the edition I own carries a huge list of historical novels by a variety of authors, all apparently in a nautical vein. If most of them are as good as this series promises to be, they'll keep me happy for years!
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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