Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - FictionThe Bermuda Privateer The Black Ring Barbarians on an Ancient Sea
Someone hidden in shadows pens a secret message, but it falls into Nicolas Fallonís hands while he and his band of misfits cruise off the coast of Portugal. Retired from the British Royal Navy, Nico now commands the privateer Sea Dog. His years of fighting the French imbued the twenty-eight year old Bermudian with a hatred for them, and learning the contents of that missive doesnít bode well for his country.
The news only worsens once Sea Dog returns home. Two of his employerís ships are long overdue and a pirate with a heavily armed frigate wreaks havoc in the Caribbean. Nor does the navy captain sent to hunt this pirate impress Nico as a fighting commander. Not to mention rumors that Spanish treasure is bound for French war coffers.
But his arrival also brings two surprises. Ezra Somers offers him a partnership in his salt-trading business, and Somerís daughter is more friendly than usual. Nico and Elinoreís budding romance must be put on hold, though, because Ezra needs to find out what happened to his missing ships and trusts only Nico to discover the truth, so Sea Dog must go to Grand Turk.
On the island, Ezraís representative shows Nico the various facets of harvesting the salt and managing the office. The ships still have not arrived, and even Nico concludes that they were either lost at sea or taken by pirates. If the latter, how do the pirates know which vessels to attack for greatest gain? His investigations reveal a traitor in their midst, but first he must see that two new merchantmen reach their destination. With the help of their masters and the navy captain who has arrived at Grand Turk, Nico sets in motion a daring, but risky, plan. When the linchpin in his plan fails to carry through, Nico and the Sea Dog pay the price once they engage the pirate frigate and come face to face with her bloodthirsty and slightly insane captain.
Like riding the high crests and deep troughs of a stormy sea, The Bermuda Privateer leaves readers gripping the edge of their seats with little time to catch their breath. From a secret alliance to treasure-laden ships bound for the enemy, Nicholas Fallon and his crew of misfits battle a maniacal pirate and traitorous allies, while forging friendships in unlikely places. Westbrook deftly interlaces history with memorable characters and pirate lore in this debut novel that includes a spellbinding running fight in the midst of a hurricane.
Read Quarterdeck interview with author (see page 5)
Review Copyrighted ©2017 Cindy Vallar
The Black Ring
By William Westbrook
McBooks Press, 2018, ISBN 978-1590137680, $22.95, CAN $29.95
Also available in e-book formats $9.99 / $11.99
Keeping accounts and working in the office are not Nicholas Fallonís cup of tea and after weeks of such busy work, heís more than ready to return to the sea. His partner, Ezra Somers, founded the Somers Salt Company of Bermuda; his daughter, Elinore, is the love of Nicholasís life. When a message requests Nicholasís presence on Antigua, both are wise enough to know that the sea is as vital to him as blood. With his schooner refitted, he collects his crew, including his childhood friend, Beauty, and his coxswain, Aja. Beauty lost her leg in an accident many years ago, but she is the bravest person Nicholas knows and a superb second in command. Aja has grown from the scared, mute boy left to die on a sinking slave ship, to a vital member of the crew with hopes of one day captaining his own vessel.
Upon their arrival at English Harbor in Antigua, Nicholas joins Rear Admiral Harry Davies aboard his flagship. Although Nicholas is not part of the Royal Navy, he has, in the past, assisted them and the two men are good friends. This time Davies asks Nicholas to ferry a senior intelligence agent to Cuba, where the man can quietly slip ashore to discover whether there is sufficient dissatisfaction with Spain to warrant British help in undermining Spanish control of the island. As a privateer, Nicholas can go where the Royal Navy cannot. On a more personal note, Davies requests that Nicholas seek out a woman whom Davies cares for in Matanzas.
Always on the lookout for opportunities to take advantage of his letter of marque, Nicholasís curiosity is aroused when they sight strange sails. The ship far surpasses his schooner in armament and men, but she runs up both a Spanish flag and a white one before asking Nicholas to come aboard. Since England and Spain are at war, it could be a trap, yet he accepts the offer. He doesnít buy the captainís story, and his doubt is confirmed when a passenger slips him a note saying they are actually prisoners. Still, there is more to the situation than the Spanish captain admits, which triggers one of Nicholasís out-of-the-box ideas that results in the capture of the enemy vessel.
Nicholas and his crew also cross paths with pirates led by a ruthless defrocked priest known as the ďHoly One.Ē They intercept secret communications between France and Spain that necessitate a visit to Haiti to warn Touissant Louverture. Then there are the captured runaway slaves and Daviesí friend at Matanzas who ae in need of rescuing before they face a firing squad. Beauty sustains a wound from which she may not recover, and news of her condition results in a deadly encounter with the Holy One for Ezra and Elinore.
Interspersed throughout the book are italicized chapters that recount the tale of a captured African warrior who is sold into slavery. These tell the story of Young David, who eventually crosses paths with Nicholas and Aja. All are vividly drawn, such as the portrayal of the slaverís battle with pirates that unfolds from Davidís perspective while he and the other slaves are chained belowdecks. Several are gut-wrenching depictions of the Middle Passage and life as a slave on Cuba. Yet entwined within them is an everlasting hope to reclaim his freedom, no matter the cost.
The myriad subplots are intriguing and expertly intertwined with the main part of the story. From first page to last, Westbrook snares the reader and doesnít let go in this enthralling second Nicholas Fallon novel that surpasses the first. Spiced with gifted ingenuity and daring escapades, this nautical adventure is not to be missed.
Barbarians on an Ancient Sea
By William Westbrook
McBooks Press, 2020, ISBN 978-1-4930-5136-6, US $18.95 / UK £14.95
e-book ISBN 978-1-4930-5156-4, US $18.00 / UK £13.95
On the shoals of Bermuda, a ship founders in a storm in 1800. All hands are lost. Among the scattered wreckage is a chest of gold coins. Later, nine-year-old Little Eddy roves the beach in search of his long-lost father and whatever treasure the sea deigns to wash ashore. This day of foraging delivers a single wooden plank with the letter ďJĒ on it. He hurries back to tell Ezra Somers, whose ships carry salt throughout the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the United States.
Caught in the same storm, Nicholas Fallon cruises the ocean north of Hispaniola in hopes of encountering French privateers or pirates that have been harassing the ships of the Somers Salt Company. As captain of the Rascal, he carries a letter of marque and since the British are at war against France and Spain, he and his crew are eager to snare a few more prizes. Instead, they spy a signal rocket and investigate. As a New England sloop teeters on the brink of sinking, they embark on a daring rescue to save those aboard.
The loss of the sloop weighs heavy on Caleb Visser, but he prays that his brotherís ship has weathered the storm. His hopes are dashed once Rascal docks in Bermuda and Nicholas takes him to meet his future father-in-law and partner, Ezra Somers. Little Eddy shares what he found and Caleb knows that heís lost not only his brother, but also any chance they had of rescuing their father. The gold his brother carried was the ransom demanded by the dey of Algiers, whose corsairs had captured and enslaved Wilhelm Visser.
When Little Eddy reveals the location of the wreck, a sliver of hope surfaces. If a diver can locate the gold, thereís a chance Caleb can recover what has been lost. Then all he will need is to find a merchant ship willing to venture into the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean, the hunting grounds of the Barbary pirates. Nicholas wants to help Caleb, but his wedding day approaches and he must convoy two salt ships to Boston Ė a journey fraught with peril from the pirates in the Caribbean and a French frigate prowling the waters near the Chesapeake.
First mate Beauty McFarland, Aja, and the rest of the Rascals return, some with important roles to play in this tale that depends on outcomes prefaced by ďif.Ē While Nicholasís first encounter with Achille Zabana, the Barbary captain with a portable beheading machine, is breathtaking, and the capture of Little Eddy provides additional impetus to go to Algiers, Nicholas and Ajaís furtive visit into Algiers is less plausible since their knowledge of the city, culture, and language is decidedly lacking. Even so, the denouement is galvanizing.
Single strands of diverse threads Ė Barbary slavery, international intrigue, heart-pounding sea battles, crafty subterfuge, ghastly torments, and vicious pirates Ė coalesce into a stirring gamble that affects characters and readers alike. Fans of the Nicholas Fallon Sea Novels will find this as immersive as the previous two books; newcomers will be lured by enthralling challenges and rich characters, especially Little Eddy who almost steals the stage from Nicholas.
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