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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults ~ Nautical Fiction

Leeward               The Devil to Pay

                    Art: Leeward
by Katie Daysh
Canelo, 2023, e-book ISBN 978-1804364055, US $5.99 / UK £2.99
Also available in print format

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The time: August 1798. The place: Aboukir Bay, Egypt. This novel opens with a nail-biting, edge-of-your seat, you-are-there moment during the Battle of the Nile when the flagship of the French navy explodes. Neither you nor the captain of HMS Lion escape unscathed. His wounds are deep and abiding, physical and traumatic. Astute readers also perceive the first glimmer that Leeward will not be your typical British Royal Navy tale set during the Age of Nelson. And this debut novel will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who venture into this maelstrom of manipulation, deception, courage, and love, will be richly rewarded.

Accepting a new post in the Caribbean is not Captain Hiram Nightingale’s preference, but two years have passed since his injuries during the Battle of the Nile, and his father and father-in-law think it is for the best. Granted, Admiral Nightingale always thinks he knows what is best for his son. Sir William Haywood has promised to help Hiram walk the fine line between ship and shore, seamanship and politics, in this assignment. Except upon his arrival, he discovers plans have changed and he has new orders. He is to take command of HMS Scylla and pursue mutineers aboard a rogue navy ship as powerful as his own.

Old emotions of doubt and terror surface, but he soon finds that being captain is second nature to him. Still, there are problems he must deal with – a first lieutenant who questions his commands, friction between two of his lieutenants, a despondent crew – but he manages to do his duty and slowly gains the loyalty of his men . . . or at least most of them. Disaster strikes after they capture a Spanish prize, which results in a mockery of an ad hoc court-martial, and the revelation of two secrets, both of which should have been disclosed before he took command of Scylla. Now, he may lose his ship and innocents aboard the rogue warship may die as a result.

Daysh is adept at weaving picturesque and fresh phrases that perfectly capture the moment. One example is “Time congealed into thick molasses.” (18) From time to time, she entwines chapters of backstory with those that take place in 1800. Initially the reason for this is unclear, but each incident provides glimpses into past events that shaped Nightingale to be the man he is, as well as the scars these left that continue to haunt him in the present. There are many emotions with which readers will empathize. Those seeking adventure experience enormous waves, tempests at sea, fire, amputation, treachery, manipulation, and sea fights. Decisions made may surprise, but they showcase how staying true to oneself and being resolute in one’s decisions are the only ways to move beyond the past and begin anew.

Review Copyright ©2023 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: The Devil
                        to Pay
The Devil to Pay
by Katie Daysh
Canelo, 2024, ebook ISBN 9781804365694, UK £3.99 / US $5.99
Also available in other formats

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A French frigate leads HMS Scylla and HMS Meridian on a merry chase into dangerous waters in the Caribbean. A fight ensues, Meridian runs aground, and Scylla’s captain is slain, leaving Lieutenant Arthur Courtney in a quandary. The French ship catches fire and explodes while the Meridian’s captain has called for assistance. The French may be the enemy, but there are survivors and Arthur chooses to rescue them first – a decision the other captain will not forget.

With the signing of the Treaty of Amiens the following June, the 1802 peace means it’s no longer necessary for Britain to maintain a large naval presence. The services of Scylla, her crew, and Arthur are no longer required, so she is broken up, the men dispersed, and he goes on half-pay with nothing to do. The only bright spots in his predicament are his visits to his beloved sister, who will soon wed, and the love of his life, Hiram Nightingale, who is already married. Theirs is an affair that must be kept secret; society and the navy are not accepting of intimate relations between two men. Still, they have much to discuss, but broaching these subjects may open quagmires Arthur’s not yet willing to confront.

One evening, an agitated Mrs. Nightingale arrives at the tavern where he and Hiram dine. They are all summoned to the Admiralty in London, which does not bode well for any of them. It turns out a ship carrying two diplomats – France’s Hugo Baptiste and England’s Sir William Haywood (Hiram’s father-in-law) – has gone missing. They were to discuss a key component of the treaty that hasn’t been implemented, and news of their disappearance could topple the tenuous peace between their two nations.

Initially, Arthur hopes to lead the expedition to find the missing ship. Those hopes are dashed when Sir Rodney Bryant reveals that the commander will be his brother, Jerome Bryant – the same captain Arthur had the audacity to abandon in favor of saving the enemy when their ship caught fire and then accuse of poor seamanship. Nor does Captain Bryant want Arthur as his first lieutenant, but Arthur knows Sir William and is a friend of Hiram. Equally surprising is the discovery that Arthur will reunite with the French captain he saved. Captain Bonfils commands Fantôme, the French ship also sent to search for the missing diplomats.

As Arthur comes to terms with his present situation, which feels almost as fragile as the peace, he finds himself thinking back on the early days of his naval career and his first love. The trigger for these memories is the theft of a surgeon’s scalpel and the accusations of the ship’s master, who used to be the Lysander’s captain when she was a merchant ship. As a result, two of the ship’s crew are arrested on multiple charges, and the penalty should they be found guilty is death. The situation strikes too close to home for Arthur, and he investigates the original crime in hopes of preventing the execution. At the same time, he strives to determine what happened to the missing Loyal, especially after Captain Bryant is severely injured and Fantôme fails to arrive at the appointed rendezvous. The critical piece of the puzzle comes from an American captain, and Sir Bryant entrusts Arthur, with his outside-the-norm thinking and experience as a tarpaulin officer, to rescue the missing before it’s too late.

Amidst some chilling and mind-boggling action, including two ships colliding during a storm and a sea fight between foes as a volcano erupts, this is a novel of introspection. Arthur has more in common with the sailors than the officers, with the have-nots than the haves like Hiram. He must find his place in the world, but time and again the past and the present collide to prevent him from achieving his goals and his dreams. The Devil to Pay is the second in the Nightingale and Courtney series. Not everyone will find the story appealing, but if you’re willing to take a chance, Daysh does not disappoint. She vividly recreates the Georgian navy and neatly melds fiction and fact to create a compelling tale that is as heart-wrenching as it is rewarding. Her characters are three-dimensional, complete with foibles and strengths we’ve all faced at some point in our lives. You may think the past has little to do with the present, but time and again, she shows that the opposite is true. And sometimes confronting that past is the only way for us to move forward.

Review Copyright ©2024 Cindy Vallar

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