Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - FictionA Ship for the King For King or Commonwealth The King's Chameleon
Starving, cold, and clad in rags, Kit Faulkner waits in the shadows for his chance to steal the remains of an apple on a January night in 1618. Just as he stakes his claim, a gentleman snatches him. He and his companion escort Kit aboard their ship, docked in Bristol. This chance encounter opens unexpected doors for the young orphan, for the man who nabs Kit is none other than Henry Mainwaring, a former pirate who presents King James I with his Discourse upon Pirates and their Suppression Thereof. At Mainwaring’s behest, Gideon Strange – captain of the Swallow and a former Barbary slave whom Mainwaring rescued – takes Kit under his wing and teaches him seamanship.
The main portion of the story, however, takes place between 1620 and 1645. During his early voyages, Kit sees his share of fighting as they thwart Algerine corsairs who attack the Swallow. Their success in such battles leads Mainwaring to arrange for Kit and the Swallow to become part of the King’s navy. When the mission to end the corsairs’ attacks on merchant shipping ends in failure, Kit becomes Mainwaring’s clerk and learns how to pass himself off as a gentleman, to acquire knowledge of what Mainwaring does as Commissioner of the Navy, and to experience court life. Eventually, Kit returns to sea to help extricate Prince Charles from a sticky situation in Spain. In the process he meets and falls in love with Katherine Villiers, whose uncle is one of the King’s men, which places her out of reach for a lowly wharf rat.
Eventually Kit captains a ship in the Royal Navy, but after Prince Charles becomes King of England, quarrels at home cause rifts between those who follow Charles and Parliament. Before long, Kit finds himself torn between his wife, a Dissenter and supporter of the Roundheads, and Mainwaring, a Royalist who fights for the king as the country falls into civil war.
While most novels that feature the Royal Navy focus on the years in which Horatio Nelson lived, Woodman chooses an earlier time when the monarchs either neglected or mismanaged the navy. This makes for a refreshing setting, and the author skillfully intertwines history, both on land and at sea, with fiction to craft a story that captures the reader’s attention. Kit grows and matures before our eyes until he becomes a complex character who is both a product of his time and a champion who inadvertently becomes embroiled in politics just because he feels obligated to help those who helped make him who he is. Woodman seamlessly explains nautical language within the story and utilizes words that evoke a sense of time and place, deftly transporting the reader back to the tumultuous seventeenth century. A Ship for the King is a thrilling historical novel rich in maritime detail and English history. Readers will soon find themselves charmed by Kit Faulkner and eagerly await the publication of the next installment, For King or Commonwealth, slated for release in April (UK) and August (US) 2012.
Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar
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For King or Commonwealth
Severn House, 2012, ISBN 978-1-84751-427-1, US $28.95 / £ 19.99
In the midst of a wintry January in the Netherlands, surrounded by mutinous crews, mounting bills, and limited resources, Captain Christopher (Kit) Faulkner and his benefactor, Sir Henry Mainwaring, ponder their future. King Charles is under arrest and rumors circulate that Parliament may execute him. That possibility is almost beyond Kit’s comprehension, but equally disturbing is Mainwaring’s desire to go home to England and for Kit to accompany him. To do so, however, would mean their deaths, for the Puritans consider their allegiance to Prince Charles treasonous. Rather than make such a momentous decision and knowing that the current inactivity can’t continue, Kit offers a risky, but daring, plan that would strike the Commonwealth where it least expects.
When Kit assisted Prince Charles in fleeing England, he abandoned his Puritan wife and children in favor of Katherine Villiers, a woman of noble birth. Her station in life matters little to Kit, but her upbringing gives her a different perspective than his. Prince Charles would like nothing better than to bed Katherine himself, which riles Kit and strains their relationship. But they can never wed, and she must look out for herself. She loves Kit, but her vow of allegiance to the prince is no less sacred that his. If the prince commands, she must do his bidding, but only so far.
Kit’s successful strike on shipping at The Nore gains him his prince’s gratitude and notoriety in England. But a second, similar strike proves far more dangerous than expected. The resulting fight between Royalist and Commonwealth vessels eventually leads to Kit’s capture by his own son. Once again on English soil, Kit finds himself imprisoned in the Tower of London. He awaits his execution, which never seems to arrive, but unexpected visitors do. While he languishes in despair and uncertainty, he wonders if he will ever again see the sea. And if he does, at what cost?
For King or Commonwealth is the continuing saga of Kit Faulkner. It takes place between 1649 and 1653, when Parliament and Oliver Cromwell rule England. Woodman’s portrayal of time and place is uncanny, and the use of period language enriches the journey. Kit’s upbringing and past experiences provide depth to his character, and the reader easily feels his anger and frustration, his desolation and resignation to the vagaries of fate. Kit faces many forks in the road, and each path has consequences that the reader doesn’t expect, but that make perfect sense. All these are the hallmarks of good historical fiction, and once the reader sets sail, there is no turning back.
Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar
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The King’s Chameleon
By Richard Woodman
Severn House, 2013, ISBN 978-0-7278-8296-7, £19.99 / US $28.95 (available Nov. 5th)
Richard Cromwell’s renunciation of the Protectorate leaves the country in upheaval, and factions within England either support the Commonwealth or yearn for a return of the monarchy. Kit Faulkner prefers to remain outside the debate, but his wife younger son are devout Puritans who are resolute in their convictions. While politics remain a sore point within the family, Kit’s partnership with his brother-in-law goes so well they decide to build an East Indiaman to take advantage of that blossoming trade.
Eventually Prince Charles resumes the throne as Charles II. Kit remains loyal to the king, but Charles demands a high price for his forgiveness. After all, Kit abandoned him while in exile and served in the Commonwealth navy for a time. Age and wisdom, however, have diminished Kit’s anger toward Charles’ toying with Katherine Villiers, who has claimed Kit’s heart since his early days at sea. He thought her lost to him, but she has returned to London. Their reunion is tempered with hindsight and the knowledge that Kit remains wedded to Judith. Patience and time become their watchwords. When Charles summons Kit to an audience, the king warns that Kit’s very life, love, and future depend heavily on how he deals with a traitor within his own family – one who works to overthrow or slay Charles.
Spanning the years of 1660 through 1672, The King’s Chameleon is the final volume in the Kit Faulkner naval adventure trilogy. It is a tale of family and how the actions of one deeply affect all members. Woodman does a fabulous job showing how a person’s faith can go from being devout to fanatical and the dire consequences that person’s actions inflict on others. At the same time, though, he deftly creates a mature and aging Kit, who has learned from the lessons life has bestowed upon him. The tale is also one of growing old and dealing with the last years of life. A consummate storyteller, Woodman combines scenes of daily life with those of supreme tension that hold the reader spellbound. From the final days of the Protectorate into the Restoration, readers are immersed in twelve years of the seventeenth century, a period that witnessed the plague, the Great Fire of London, and the invasion of the Dutch under the leadership of Admiral de Ruyter during the Anglo-Dutch wars.
Review Copyrighted ©2013 Cindy Vallar
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