Michael Aye,
The Reaper
(Broadsides, 2005)

It is unquestionably the nut of a good story.

But Michael Aye's The Reaper, the first in a series of Fighting Anthony tales at sea, lacks the development and polish that a more practiced writer could have given it.

Set in the late 18th century, The Reaper is the story of Captain Gilbert Anthony, newly posted to a much better ship in the British navy, when he learns at his admiral-father's deathbed that he has an illegitimate half-brother who is also in the service. Anthony soon sets sail -- with his brother aboard as a senior midshipman -- to the West Indies, where the captain and crew have been charged to curtail pirate raids on local merchants.

But, while the novel has the framework of an exciting story, Aye fails to flesh out the details. Everything that happens is abrupt: Anthony sets his sights on a lady's attentions, he wins the lady's affections; he lays a trap for a vile pirate, the pirate immediately blunders into it. Battles and casualties at sea are for the most part dry and emotionless, while romance is formulaic.

To make matters worse, Aye has an awkward style with dialogue; it sounds rather like his characters are aware that an author is listening in and writing down their speech, so they're doing their utmost to sound important and literary instead of speaking naturally. A subplot involving a gypsy sailor with supposed mystical powers -- powers that make an unwelcome and dramatic appearance during the climax, totally relieving Anthony of winning a fight on his own merits -- adds an element of fantasy to the story that is intrusive and unnecessary.

I read The Reaper quickly, in part because it's a slim volume and in part because it's a thrilling tale -- but I was disappointed that the story didn't live up to its promise. I hope Aye continues to develop his storytelling art so that the sequels to The Reaper can achieve a greater success.

review by
Tom Knapp

15 August 2009

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