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


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Books for Adults - Fiction

Cover Art: A Ship of War
A Ship of War
(US Title Take, Burn or Destroy)

By Sean Thomas Russell
Michael Joseph, 2012, ISBN 978-0-718-15749-4, £12.99
Ebook ISBN 978-0141967240, £7.99

StarStarStarStarStar

I want you at sea – and beyond recall – as soon as can be arranged.
Those are the First Secretary’s words when Charles Hayden receives his orders to take HMS Themis to Le Havre, where a royalist spy will deliver vital information pertinent to the war between Britain and France. Hayden is also to destroy or capture a French frigate that slips out of the port at night to plunder British merchant ships. When his mind should be focused on the mission, problems at home keep intruding. He faces financial ruin after aiding a French émigrée, who poses as his wife and runs up bills that he is expected to pay. Henrietta Carthew, the woman Charles loves, has heard of this wife and refuses to see him.

Upon learning from the spy that France prepares a large invasion force, Hayden should return to England with all haste. Some of his men, however, haven’t returned from investigating the port. When they do, an enemy vessel follows in their wake. Eluding the French proves difficult, for fog sets in, the wind decreases, and a storm brews. As day turns to night, other warships venture near until six pursue the Themis. In a desperate attempt to escape capture, Hayden and his officers don French naval uniforms. But are this ruse and Charles’ ability to speak the enemy’s language like a native sufficient to elude the French? Or will this combination and the personal letters in his cabin mark him as a traitor to France and send him to the guillotine at the height of the French Revolution?

Russell spins a web that melds the ebb and flow of the tide with the breathtaking pull of a vortex. Some chapters might be long, but they keep you spellbound, sitting on the edge of your seat, forgetting to breathe. Then just as you’re about to gasp for air, the story switches to the Carthew estate and the dilemmas Henrietta faces because of Charles’ “betrayal,” another man’s proposal for her hand in marriage, and the machinations of her family in her love life. These peaceful interludes may perturb at first, until you realize how they mesh with the story and that Russell permits you enough time to regain your equilibrium before beginning the next phase in Hayden’s tale, which mimics a ship in storm-tossed seas where the waves get higher and the troughs delve deeper.

In spite of its length – 502 pages – A Ship of War is a fast read. This is the third Charles Hayden adventure, but readers like me, who haven’t read the previous titles, will have no trouble following the story. The publisher chose to use a larger font-size than normally found in novels, so eye strain is never a problem either. Russell imbues each of his characters, whether major or minor, with such realism that you experience what they experience, leaving an indelible mark on your psyche. For readers who would like a good grounding in the historical setting of this novel – even though having this isn’t necessary to enjoy and understand the story – I recommend first reading Sam Willis’ The Glorious First of June. The knowledge I gained in reading that helped to enrich my enjoyment and understanding of A Ship of War, and made the challenges Charles Hayden and his men face more poignant.
Meet the author
  Read an interview with author in Quarterdeck
(scroll down to page 9)

     Read an excerpt


Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar

 
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