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Books for Adults - Fiction

Not Self But Country                Crucible of Tradition

Cover Art: Not Self But

Not Self But Country: A New Nation Forges A New Navy
By David C. Perry
David Perry, 2014, e-book ISBN 978-2940045717571, $2.99


This is the first volume of a new naval fiction series with the American Navy as the subject. This book is full of action that is exciting to read and accurately portrayed. Mr. Perry writes as if he himself has stood on the quarterdeck in the midst of battle!

There are a number of historical characters introduced to us, some as young men before being inserted later in the story, and others are presented as events take place. We encounter Robert Morris, the administrative and financial Father of the Navy; John Barry as master of a merchant ship before his naval and privateer exploits; Richard Dale who is unsure where his loyalties and naval service should be; and John Paul Jones as mate and passenger aboard merchant vessels.

Then there are also characters needed to serve other roles in the narrative. These include Midshipmen and Lieutenants on both Continental Navy and Royal Navy vessels, as well as those who serve as Warrant officers and sailors. This makes meeting and keeping track of everyone difficult at times. The Kindle book has a List of Characters after the narrative, but I had already finished the book before I knew it was there!

Anyone familiar with the history of the Continental Navy knows there isn’t much action that takes place during the Revolutionary War. Worse still are historical events, such as the raid on Nassau and the Battle of Block Island, which are not complimentary to the Commodores and Captains who participated or even exciting actions in any way.

This makes writing naval fiction about the fledgling navy difficult to say the least. Mr. Perry chooses to just mention these events in historical context and writes instead of the early South Carolina Navy for action worthy of presentation in his book.

The U.S.S. Lexington is the first Continental naval vessel Richard Dale serves aboard, before it is captured and he is taken to Mill Prison. He is able to escape, but is unable to make it out of England before being recaptured.  Refusing to sit out the war, he again escapes and is able this time to get to France where he presents himself to John Paul Jones and is appointed a Lieutenant on the Bonhomme Richard.

Before continuing the narrative I need to comment on Perry’s editing of John Paul Jones’ story. The way nothing controversial is mentioned in his early history, and his raid on the home of his childhood Lord is missing from the narrative, seem almost Orwellian when you realize only his good qualities will be discussed and nothing that will be negative to potential British readers is included in the story beyond his historical victory. At the same time I wonder why the successful action between the U.S.S. Ranger and H.M.S. Drake is excluded. Hopefully this battle will not appear later in the series, where history’s chronological order is sacrificed to provide a more entertaining book.

Writing about the famous battle between Bonhomme Richard and H.M.S. Serapis is yet another problem for Mr. Perry to contend with. It is a sure bet that many of his readers are familiar with the battle and have already even read fictional accounts in other novels. The challenge of describing the fight in a way that grips the readers’ attention and also matching the historical record is enormous, but Mr. Perry achieves this with precise and suspenseful vignettes of several men on each vessel as the event unfolds.

For a new author to rise to the occasion the way Mr. Perry has guarantees his success in the genre and makes readers want to order his second book in the series, Crucible of Tradition: A Sea of Heroes and Traitors. I did and I can’t wait to read it!
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Review Copyrighted ©2015 Irwin Bryan

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Cover Art: The Crucible of
The Crucible of Tradition: A Sea of Heroes and Traitors
By David C. Perry
CreateSpace, 2015, print ISBN 978-1511634687, $15.95 Griz Publishing, 2015, e-book, $2.99$15.95
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When I reviewed Perry’s Not Self But Country, I was critical of the battle between BonHomme Richard and Serapis appearing in the first book in this series. Yes, I had read the Introduction, which clearly stated the series would not be written in chronological order, but having read so many other series – all of which were in chronological order – I wasn’t able to grasp the full meaning of this statement.

In truth, realizing the story of America’s Navy is not just about ships and battles, Perry wisely presents individual commanders’ stories, beginning with the events that first brought these men to America or led them to working on ships through to their experiences aboard warships that helped to establish the navy’s traditions of victory. This allows the author to include actions that take place before the colonies are ready to declare their independence from Britain.

The Crucible of Tradition, like the first book, begins in the 1750s. But this time we meet young John Barry in Ireland, as his family is evicted from their home in Ballysampson and goes to stay with Barry’s uncle. He’s secretly taught to read and do his sums at his uncle’s home since the British frown on the Irish being educated. When he is nine years old, he becomes a cabin boy aboard his uncle’s ship and begins his training and life as a mariner.

Off the island of Minorca, Spain in 1764, Barry is now the first mate and his ship is being chased by a xebec-rigged pirate. Both vessels fire their cannons in an attempt to damage the other’s sails and rigging. Barry’s captain hopes to sail close to the island fortress and reach the protection of their big guns. On a nearby headland a young Minorcan, Jorge Farragut, watches the exciting battle and dreams of some day chasing pirates with his own ship.

In the American colonies the Royal Navy aggressively enforces the taxation of goods by searching and seizing shipping in coastal waterways. One particularly bothersome vessel is the British schooner Gaspee, which operates in the waters off Newport, Rhode Island. In June 1772, while chasing the Hannah, the Gaspee runs hard aground. Incensed at the actions of this British ship and her captain, a group of merchants and sailors row out to the helpless vessel to seek revenge.

John Paul Jones’ life story continues with an unfortunate episode that occurred while he was master of a vessel at Tobago in 1773. When one member of his mutinous crew confronts him with a weapon, John kills the man in self-defense. With little faith in the local legal system his advisors encourage him to leave the island and his ship.

As the colonies prepare for armed conflict in March 1776, Barry attends a meeting in Philadelphia and accepts a commission to command the brigantine Lexington. He is charged with keeping the approaches of the Delaware Bay clear of British cruisers. When he sails downriver the next month, the Revolutionary War begins in earnest along the colonies’ coastal waters.

Returning to Newport, Rhode Island, Lt. John Paul Jones of the Continental Navy takes command of the sloop Providence. Joining him is Midshipman Nathaniel Fanning. Their first action comes when they encounter HMS Lilac. Just when they think they’ll capture her, she rounds a headland where HM Frigate Cerebus is at anchor. Now Jones and Providence become the prey.

In June 1778, Lt. Jorge Farragut and two new Midshipmen, including John Mayrant, are aboard the South Carolina Navy vessel Notre Dame. On a cruise in waters near Bermuda, Notre Dame battles a pirate vessel. In the struggle that follows, John Mayrant’s courage is tested when the exciting encounter shifts from cannons to swords! As many other naval fiction authors have done, reading about the midshipmen’s lessons helps to educate less knowledgeable readers about the ship and the way it’s rigged.

In September 1779, we find Commodore Jones and his crew aboard the captured Serapis. Captain Landais of Alliance informs Jones he will not obey the Commodore unless it suits him. Once they arrive in France, Landais is removed from command to face a court-martial, but he is not kept as a prisoner. While Jones travels to Paris to meet with Benjamin Franklin, Landais resumes command of Alliance. To prevent him from leaving France, Jones may have to fight Alliance with help from his French allies.

Throughout this second novel, Perry writes in a way that brings the characters to life for the reader. While the actions that take place are shorter and less intense than the struggle between BonHomme Richard and HMS Serapis, the descriptions and dialogue bring readers into the story until, with swords in hand, we repel boarders on the slippery deck!

That’s a good read!
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Review Copyrighted ©2016 Irwin Bryan

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