Thursday, 3 March 2016

Review: The Mountain of Gold by J.D. Davies

The Mountain of Gold is the second novel in the The Journals of Matthew Quinton series by J.D. Davies. It is historical naval fiction, but unlike most other novels set in the Age of Sail, Matthew Quinton lives in the 17th century, in post-Civil War era England where the king's power is still shaky and many wish that the Civil War had ended differently. The first novel was somewhat light on the naval adventure side, most action taking place on land, and the sequel has the same problem, if you wish to call it that. But, overall, it is rather a good read of the period.

Matthew Quinton is still a raw captain and relies mostly on his officers to handle the ship for him, but he is learning with the help of his good friend and officer, Kit Farrell. At the beginning of the story, Quinton captures a Corsair pirate from under the nose of a Maltese knight, a Frenchman called Montnoir. The pirate turns out to be a renegade Irishman, who avoids the usual hanging sentence by relating a story of a mountain of gold somewhere in the depths of Africa. Matthew decides to bring the Irishman back to England and soon finds the king captivated by the story and his own next mission taking him to Africa in search of the said mountain.

Given the overall plot and the name of the novel, one might expect most of the action taking place at the sea and in the exotic African wilderness, but it takes more than half the novel until we finally set sail. Until then, the focus is mostly on Matthew's family affairs and court intrigue involving his mother, the king and his brother. It is a somewhat sloggish read until the expedition begins and then there are not really that many pages left of the novel to give the Africa plot its due lot; events go by quickly and the novel ends before you would wish it to. Moreover, Matthew manages to fill even some of this section with his worries about his family.

The only character that seems to be fully developed is Matthew himself. Most of the others, even his wife and his friend Kit, get only a surface description and we do not really find out what kind of people they are. The only other character getting more attention is the Irish renegade, O'Dwyer, but the question of the truth behind his story is somewhat obvious and the twists and the turns of the plot towards the end are not very complex. Still, the story comes to a good conclusion and Matthew even finds out stuff about the family intrigue that troubled him in the first half of the novel (though, it must be said, an observant reader probably had the answers long before Matthew did).

As a reader, I would have expected more naval life and action - and action in general - from the novel and I do hope that the series will feature more of them in future installments. Also, given how much introspection there was in this one, one would also wish to see the supporting cast featured more fully and their characters rounded beyond a name, rank and a generic attitude. The historical detail is very good, especially the description of a ship yard and the river-side villages of Africa.

There is potential here and the second part improved upon the first one well enough. Aside from the first half of the novel, I was fully entertained by the latter half of it. The writing is generally very good and I definitely plan to continue reading the series.