Friday, 19 February 2016

Review: Gentleman Captain by J.D. Davies

There have been numerous authors trying their hand in the same genre with Patrick O'Brian, but no one has truly been able to match the quality of his naval historical fiction. J.D. Davies' Gentleman Captain, is a fine entry to the genre, however, and manages to make itself different enough from those who have gone before. One of the main differences is the era. The novel is set in the latter half of the 17th century and offers a nice view of the post Civil War England.

The story begins in 1662 - the Thirty Years War in Europe is over and the English Civil War has ended - when King Charles II has reclaimed the throne from Cromwell. The wounds of the Civil War have not had time to heal, however, and old allegiances are difficult to forget. A new rebellion is stirring in the Scottish Isles and the King sends one of his youngest captains to do what he must to defuse the situation.

The protagonist is an inexperienced son of a noble royalist family, Matthew Quinton. Despite his brief command, he's already managed to lose one ship and is now determined not to repeat that failure. His inexperience is alleviated by a loyal friend and experiences seaman, Kit Farrell, who also helps him to come to grips with the life at sea. In addition to his personal growth story and the trouble with the Scots, Quinton is also suspicious of his crew and the part they played in the death of Jupiter's previous captain.

The novel is well written, but does not strive for the same literary heights that Patrick O'Brian inhabits. It is a more action-oriented story of intrigue and swordfights and you will not find the kind of philosophical character analysis as you would with O'Brian's novels. The only real downside is that very little actually happens at sea. The story mostly deals with the political situation in Scotland and the murder mystery that is somehow connected to it.

A minor gripe is the way Davies uses the word epee as a reference to the sword a certain Frenchman carries. This word is a modern invention (in English) and refers to the smallsword, or duelling sword, that followed rapiers. However, rapiers were still very much a thing in the 17th century, while lighter duelling-only swords appeared in the following century.

Overall, this was a fine read and I will certainly check out how the series continues and especially if we'll see more naval life in the future. We should, since J.D. Davies is a renowned expert in the field and I doubt he will keep his stories land-based for long.