Author: B.N. Peacock
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / Nautical / British Navy / Merchant Ships / French Revolution / Caribbean)
Publisher/Publication Date: Fireship Press (3/1/2012)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The lives of three men are touched by revolution, war, the sea, and their own desire to go out in the world on their own.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I have no strong feelings one way or the other.
First line: Even in August, London streets could be clogged.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you like gritty novels that don't gloss over the harder/darker parts of history -- especially life in the British navy.
Why did I get this book?: I like nautical fic now and then -- I don't know much about ships, but I fancy sailors!
Review: This first novel is a promising start to a nautical-based series set in the tumultuous late 18th century.
While the opening chapter offers a rather clunky introduction of our three leads (to us and each other), Peacock's story smooths out and things feel less contrived and awkward. Noble born Edward Deveare runs off to sea to avoid being shipped off to sea by his hostile and greedy paternal grandfather. Country carpenter Jemmy Sweetman runs off to sea because he hates his gin-drunk father. Wealthy French radical Louis Saulnier ends up at sea after his radical views get him in trouble at home.
Once at sea, all three young men grow up fast, and inevitably, their separate stories eventually connect -- but not after some serious agony and pain. The secondary cast of this book is large, but all rather intriguing, from Edward's dramatic mother to Louis' lace maker mistress to the cruel captain drives Jemmy to desert. I rather wished some of the secondary characters got more time in the book -- but then again I'm always partial to the stories of women.
The best parts of the book are when Peacock paints life at sea. Her descriptions are wonderfully vivid and often shocking, from the pungent scent of life below deck to the horrifying cruelties of Naval discipline and punishment. I often found myself pausing to chew over a scene that was visceral or gave me a historical 'oh, fascinating!' moment. (This whole book made me randomly curious about the development of the modern navy as I was horrified at how the British Navy worked in the 18th century. Paying for meals on a ship?! One's own uniforms?! Laundry?! Everyone drunk?!)
My edition came with a two-page supplement offering family trees of the three main leads as well as a crew list for the ships featured in the story. It was nice to have, although I will say, I had Wiki open so I could ascertain where on the ship people were -- that was more baffling to me than anything else!
My interest in nautical fiction comes from liking Master and Commander (the movie) and having a hot crush on Austen's Captain Wentworth. So needless to say, my knowledge of this genre is thin. I can't say whether the ship-speak and boat bits were accurate or not. As when I read super science-y scifi, I glossed over the super technical bits, but I still enjoyed the ambiance Peacock created and it satisfied my snapping-sails-blue-ocean-wool-uniforms-gritty-realism craving. For those who want hist fic that isn't heavy on romance, this is one for you.
From the end of the story, I'd guess this is the first in a series, and I'm curious to see where our boys end up. This is my second Fireship Press book and I'm impressed with their offerings. If you like nautical fic, take a look at this and their other offerings!
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