Alexander Kent,
Richard Bolitho, Midshipman
(Hutchinson, 1975; McBooks, 2006)

Richard Bolitho is a 16-year-old midshipman, already with four years of sea experience under his belt, when Richard Bolitho, Midshipman begins.

The novel, originally published in 1975 and now collected in the larger volume The Complete Midshipman Bolitho, launches an ongoing saga that very nearly exceeds the combined length of C.S. Forester's Hornblower series and Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey series -- and it's still going. As for quality -- well, it's hard to match Forester and O'Brian in the specialized British navy genre they claimed as their own, but Alexander Kent (actually a pen name for British author and former naval officer Douglas Reeman) is off to a very good start.

In this volume, Bolitho is brought aboard the 74-gun ship of the line Gorgon, which sets sail for the coast of Africa in 1772 to roust out a nest of pirates. Bolitho's trials include a rigid captain who can't be bothered to remember his name, a hateful lieutenant with a mad on for midshipmen and a thirst for other men's glory, and a junior mid who is just too darned scared to be of much use.

And that's before they get to the pirates.

Fans of this nautical genre will love Kent's use of language and obvious familiarity with a life at sea. The action -- and there's plenty of it -- is taut and thrilling, and readers will see in Bolitho an up-and-coming hero who, like Hornblower, is able to seize on unlikely courses of action that pull victory -- or at the very least, survival -- from certain defeat.

Anyone who has read and reread the Forester and O'Brian tales is no doubt thirsting for more. Bolitho has whet my appetite for more; fortunately, this omnibus edition has two more adventures ready to go.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

13 March 2010

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