Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - FictionThe Captain's Nephew Sloop of War On the Lee Shore A Man of No Country
During the Royal Navy’s assault on Ostend, First Lieutenant Alexander Clay is tasked with leading a shore mission to prevent the garrison of French troops at Nieuwpoort from reinforcing Ostend. The straightforward plan is to land, blow up a bridge, and wait for HM Frigate Agrius to return to retrieve them, but the plan goes awry almost from the start. Not only must he play nursemaid to his captain’s inexperienced nephew, but getting to their objective is fraught with complications no one expects, their arrival is noticed, and the uncooperative weather and water conditions prevent an easy recovery. Clay’s ingenious idea for getting his men back to their ship saves them from capture and they return to England to await their next assignment.
Captain Percy Follet’s report of the incident, which soon finds its way into the newspaper, gives credit for the incident not to Clay, but to his nephew, Lieutenant Windham. Lacking an influential mentor and not coming from a wealthy family, Clay fumes at the injustice done him. His only hope of advancement and gaining his own command is through his initiative and accomplishments. It grates that the undeserving-of-his-rank second lieutenant should garner the accolades that rightfully belong to him. When he questions Captain Follet about this injustice, a rift develops between the two men.
The Agrius’s next assignment is to escort a convoy of East Indiamen part of the way to India. The commander of the merchant ships invites all the navy officers aboard his vessel for a formal dinner, much to the chagrin of Clay. He much prefers the regimented wooden world in which he lives and he never knows what to say to women. He is pleasantly surprised to find that one of the ladies, Lydia Browning, is a friend of his sister and, by evening’s end, he’s captivated by Lydia. In the days that follow they become closer, but on the night he decides to declare his intentions, Captain Follet orders him to remain on Agrius. A marriage between Clay and Miss Browning would be totally unsuitable, and her uncle has asked the captain to intervene. Thus the rift between Clay and his commanding officer widens, and soon the crew becomes aware of it. The majority support Clay.
Once the Agrius bids farewell to the merchant convoy, she heads west to take up her new station in the West Indies. She is also tasked with finding and destroying a larger, more powerful French frigate bound for the island of St. Lucia and carrying much-needed stores and troops. In spite of his anger, Clay efficiently carries out his duties, but Follet’s resentment of his first officer leads to complications that endanger the ship and their mission.
The Captain’s Nephew opens with a mesmerizing and vivid portrayal of a man drowning and then regresses six months to show the events that culminate in this tragic incident. From first page to last, Allan bewitches and transports readers back to 1796 to walk the decks of a wooden ship and engage the enemy all the while experiencing what the characters endure. Equally compelling is that this is not just a tale of the officers of the Royal Navy. Interludes are woven into the story to personalize and recreate life on the lower decks, as well as to provide glimpses of what it was like for loved ones left behind. This first book in the Alexander Clay series offers a satisfying resolution of who dies, while only hinting at how it happens – an intriguing and perfect enticement for readers who will eagerly await the next chapter in Clay’s pursuit of his naval career and the woman he loves.
Review Copyrighted ©2018 Cindy Vallar
A Sloop of War
By Philip K. Allan
Penmore, 2018, ISBN 978-1-946409-42-3, $19.50
e-book ISBN 978-1-946409-43-0, $5.50
When HM Frigate Agrius limps into Barbados with a larger French warship as her prize, Vice-Admiral Benjamin Caldwell is both dismayed and delighted. Her damage is such that she must undergo immediate repairs rather than allowing the commander of the Windward Islands station to implement his plan to seize the French island of St. Lucia. The saving grace is that First Lieutenant Alexander Clay has acquired some intelligence that will aid in that endeavor, and his actions in battle against a mightier foe and assuming command after the death of his captain earn Clay a promotion to master and commander and a vessel of his own, the sloop of war Rush. Finally, he has climbed the first two rungs of the social ladder that may raise his status as a suitable husband in the eyes of his beloved’s guardian. But Lydia is in far off India and Clay can only dream of the day when they may once again reunite. Until then, he forges a plan with his sister in England. She will hide his letters in her packages to Lydia.
In the meantime, Clay sails the Rush to St. Lucia with orders to blockade one of the island’s ports. The sloop’s sluggish response does not bode well for the assignment, but there’s little he can do to remedy the mass of seaweed and barnacles that foul her hull as long as they are at sea. The lack of speed allows an enemy merchant ship to slip past Rush into the safety of the harbor protected by the guns of the French fort. Clay’s anger at losing a potential prize gives rise to a daring plan to remedy the loss – one that requires him to trust that his men can carry out it, for as captain, he must remain aboard Rush. The night attack proves successful and a prize crew sails the merchant ship back to Barbados. Clay follows at a slower pace, which proves far more dangerous than expected when they encounter a 74-gun Spanish man-of-war whose captain wants the Rush as his prize.
While the main focus of this second book in The Alexander Clay series focuses on the British invasion of St. Lucia in the 18th century, A Sloop of War is entwined with several other tales. Lieutenant Nicholas Windham still blames Clay and his best friend, John Sutton, for the death of his uncle, the captain of the Agrius, and is determined to make them pay one way or the other. Able Sedgwick, a runaway slave, seeks refuge at Spring Hill Plantation, where the enlightened owner has freed his slaves, while making himself and his family pariahs among the plantocracy. To thwart Barbadian law George Robertson arranges for Able to join the Royal Navy and sail aboard the Rush. An ardent abolitionist, Jacob Linfield, the Rush’s surgeon, strikes up a friendship with Robertson and becomes enamored with his younger daughter, who seems more attracted to John Sutton.
A Sloop of War is a fast-paced nautical adventure interwoven with land and sea actions, as well as civilian, political, and historical elements. Alexander Clay may be the main character of this book, but Able Sedgwick is a likable fellow who easily takes center stage more than once. His integration into the crew deftly shows life in the Royal Navy, while at the same time demonstrating both acceptance and prejudice among a cast of characters where each is uniquely drawn and rarely stereotypical. The energy in the confrontation between Windham and Clay feels like being shocked by static electricity. Several scenes are laced with humor, and the wonderfully descriptive comparison in the final engagement perfectly allows readers to imagine what is unfolding. Fans of nautical and naval fiction will enjoy this second entry in the series and will look forward to the next phase in Alexander Clay’s career and love life.
On the Lee Shore
By Philip K. Allan
Penmore, 2018, ISBN 978-1-946409-48-5, US $19.50
Also available in ebook formats
A summons from the Admiralty signals the end of Captain Alexander Clay’s convalescence after being wounded in a sea battle in the Caribbean. Upon his arrival in London, he learns of the discontent rippling through the Royal Navy. The ranks are dissatisfied with their pay – which hasn’t been raised in over a century – poor rations, and no leave when ships are in port. Such disgruntlement can’t be swept under the rug either, for the crew of HM Frigate Titan took matters into their own hands. They locked up the officers and refused to obey any orders from their captain, accusing him of murder and misuse. The First Lord has decided that he needs an intelligent officer with dash to assume command of this warship and Clay is just the man.
When Clay first steps aboard the 36-gun vessel, he sees only hostile faces. Many are angry. Some are contemptuous, others indifferent. His orders are to restore order and discipline aboard Titan, but he prefers menial labor and constant drilling to achieve this, rather than the lash as his predecessor favored. Clay also permits music and other lively entertainment among the men when they’re off duty. Regardless of these easements, there are those who remain discontent. One is an officer who favors the stricter enforcement of Titan’s former commander. Among the ranks, there is a cadre of men led by Richard Sexton, an Irishman and an avid adherent of the United Irishmen. He’s not above using trickery and violence to achieve his goals, which includes once again taking control of the ship.
A few officers and a handful of men, however, know Clay and transferred with him to the Titan. Those of the lower decks discover how the United Irishmen communicate with each other when posted to different ships. They also are determined to prevent Sexton and his group from succeeding in their endeavor, especially when a message is intercepted that informs those on board the Titan that the ranks have staged a mutiny, based in Spithead, that has essentially brought the navy to a standstill at a time when they can least afford one.
Titan is one of a squadron a warships, under the command of Commodore Sir Edward Pellew, that is blockading the French navy port of Brest. Clay is tasked with making daily sails close to port to check on the comings and goings of the fishing fleet, the French navy, and any other intelligence that might be of interest. The more havoc he can cause, the better, but his daring, unconventional sorties require officers and crew to work in unity. Complicating each plan are the dangerous waters in which they patrol and the dirty weather that frequently hampers and endangers them. When a particularly violent storm scatters the fleet, Clay and his men must make the French continue to think the whole squadron remains on blockade. But the danger aboard remains and it only requires a single match to ignite.
On the Lee Shore is the third entry in the Alexander Clay series and is filled with action and peril that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Allan provides a unique perspective of the Spithead Mutiny, splitting his depiction between the points of view of the officers and the men. He deftly intertwines avarice, corruption, and mutiny, while spicing these with glimpses into the everyday lives of sailors and their personal lives both at sea and at home. There’s even a bit of romance, as Clay and Lydia Browning are finally reunited.
Review Copyrighted ©2018 Cindy Vallar
A Man of No Country
By Philip K. Allan
Penmore, 2018, ISBN 978-1-946409-60-7, US $19.50
E-book ISBN 978-1-946409-61-4, $5.50
After marrying the love of his life, Captain Alexander Clay finds his idyllic shore leave cut short. His frigate Titan has been repaired, but instead of rejoining the Channel Fleet, he and his men sail for the Mediterranean to assist Admiral Lord St. Vincent. Rather than the boring voyage expected, they investigate suspicious actions aboard a merchant brig and thus discover that pirates control the vessel and the crew is locked below. After rescuing the captives, they later spot a Russian sloop that runs aground rather than fight. When Clay’s men reach the shore, one of the evaders turns out to be John Grainger, who claims to have been forced to navigate for the Russian privateers. Although he dresses like a Turk, was raised in Algeria, and has their coloring, he speaks English and has piercing blue eyes. He just claims not to know where he was born. Once aboard the Titan, he joins the Royal Navy.
When they arrive on station, Clay meets with the admiral. He and his vessels maintain a blockade on the Spanish navy, which means no naval ship has ventured far into the Mediterranean. Therefore, Titan is to become the eyes of the fleet. Clay will find out what’s happening, what the French are planning, and visit Ambassador Hamilton in Naples.
While the ship resupplies and their captain meets with the admiral, Sam Evans, Adam Trevan, Joshua Rosso, and Sean O’Malley, along with John Grainger, visit a tavern. Able Sedgwick arrives late, having stopped to purchase a blank journal in which to record his life’s story as an African slave to help the abolitionist cause. John mistakes the journal for his own and when he accosts Able, the serving girl notices John’s tattoo and becomes terrified. When Able later questions her, she divulges the true meaning of the mark.
Once the Titan returns to sea, she becomes enshrouded by a dense fog and those aboard find themselves surrounded by the Spanish fleet. Since they remain invisible to the enemy, Clay tricks two of the vessels into firing upon each other. It’s a neat trick, but later he regrets how he endangered his mission. He soon puts his reckless misstep behind him, when he sends his men ashore to seize a merchant ship that eluded them and to launch a surprise attack on an enemy fortification. In doing so, they discover the captured prize carries military tents and cooking equipment bound for Marseille.
Upon their return to the ship, Sam discovers that he’s been robbed. More thefts soon follow, and Able overhears one of the new men threatening someone. No matter how much searching the master of arms does, he finds no trace of the missing money or the thief. To keep the growing discontent from endangering the ship, Clay enlists Able’s help in discovering the truth.
As the Titan ventures past numerous harbors, Clay has lookouts count the ships in the harbor. When combined with the tents and cooking equipment, it soon becomes evident that General Napoleon Bonaparte is amassing an enormous fleet. Clay immediately returns to report to the admiral to find that Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson has arrived with reinforcements. Clay joins his squadron and they set out to determine where the French plan to go. When Titan revisits the harbors, Clay discovers the French fleet has disappeared. It soon becomes a battle against time to find out where Bonaparte intends to launch his next invasion.
A Man of No Country is the fourth offering in the Alexander Clay series. The eye-opening prologue is a powerful and horrifying depiction of a Barbary pirate attack, where the merchant captain warns his young son that should he be captured, he must join the pirates in order to survive, but his request comes at an excruciatingly high price. Discovering the identity of the thief proves to be a challenging mystery for the reader. We also learn more about Able’s traumatic and chilling journey from Africa to the Caribbean. A bit of humor is inserted into scenes where Clay meets Lady Emma Hamilton, and Allan does a fabulous job in making the reader experience Clay’s awkwardness and discomfort at becoming prey to her feminine wiles. There is also a daring sea rescue in the midst of a terrible gale. All the adventures lead up to the stunning and breathless sea battle between the Royal and French Navies that history knows as the Battle of the Nile.
Review Copyrighted ©2019 Cindy Vallar
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