By lex, on September 24th, 2007
I received a publisher’s proof of S. Thomas Russell’s “Under Enemy Colors” in the mail last month. Some of you may know that I’m a huge fan of Patrick O’Brian‘s Aubrey/Maturin series – a twenty volume set of closely researched, hugely enjoyable books about an “age of sail” Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars. I’ve read many good books once and a few twice. I’ve read the entire O’Brian opus straight through four or five times. At least.
So when the publisher asked me to give “Enemy Colors” a look I eagerly agreed.
Mr. Russell’s has put together a jolly tale and I hope it finds commercial success. Although it took off a trifle slowly – I can blame my own distractions – the very little effort put forth up front paid dividends in time and I found the book a page turner after the first fifty pages.
I did have technical objections here and there. Russell tends to use the honorific “mister” when referring to the foremast hands, what we today would call enlisted sailors in the US Navy, and “ratings” in the Royal Navy. Both then and now it’s far more usual to simply use a sailor’s last name, “mister” being reserved for junior officers and warrant officers. Too, HMS Themis – the protagonist’s ship – manages to get underway against both wind and tide out of Portsmouth, losing ground on every board. Square rigged ships can’t sail much closer than 60 degrees or so to the wind, so to have lost ground on each of four tacks from anchorage against adverse winds and tides would presumable result with the ship aground in very short order. But these are merely quibbles.
The book is action packed – almost to a fault. Themis trains a cross-grained crew, puts a landing party ashore in France to wreak some havoc, engages in a multi-ship action, cuts a French frigate out of harbor, and endures both a mutiny and a court martial all in the space of some 500 pages.
For fans of period fiction the choices are to re-read the favorites or hope for something new. S. Thomas Russell’s “Under Enemy Colors” represents an exciting addition to the genre.