Alexander Kent,
To Glory We Steer
(Hutchinson, 1968; McBooks, 1998)

A beloved character departs.

A couple of promising new characters, both of whom I suspect will be around for a while, make their introductions.

But there's no doubt that To Glory We Steer is all about Richard Bolitho, or "Mad Dick" as his crew takes to calling him. This is the first book written in Alexander Kent's long-running series to feature the young British naval officer, although not the first in the series, chronologically speaking, since Kent later would go back to fill in the details of Bolitho's early years. It is a promising beginning.

The story takes place during the waning months of the American Revolution, and history affords us the foreknowledge that Bolitho is on the losing side. That doesn't stop him from acquitting himself well, however -- particularly against a specific privateer whose captain proves an unexpected nemesis.

The book is set in 1782, as Bolitho is given command of the frigate HMS Phalarope in a Portsmouth tavern. His command begins under a cloud after a near-mutiny against her former captain and suspicions around the fleet that she's a cursed and cowardly ship. The ship is sent to the Caribbean, and Bolitho faces more than just the usual naval battles one expects ... including capture, a horrifying personal revelation and, yes, the continued threat of mutiny.

There are battles a-plenty, and Kent doesn't spare the horror of shipboard fighting, where cannonballs were the least of a sailor's worries. Grapeshot, falling spars and even flying splinters were the greater hazards, and Kent keeps the air full of danger.

He doesn't disregard his characters, however, and readers will feel themselves well acquainted with the officers and crew by the end of this book. Bolitho has a hard task ahead of him -- sailing into dangerous waters is hard enough without worrying if your crew will let you down in a clinch. You'll enjoy seeing how he molds his dispirited crew into a fighting unit of some renown.

Although the first written, Glory is the fifth novel in Bolitho's career, which begins as a midshipman and proceeds at a rapid pace through his advancement. There are nearly two dozen more to go, and I'm looking forward to all of them.

book review by
Tom Knapp

6 October 2012

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