James Nelson,
Revolution at Sea #5: All the Brave Fellows
(Pocket, 2000)

I was sad when I closed my copy of All the Brave Fellows for the last time.

It wasn't the writing that left me in a doleful mood. No, author James L. Nelson has proven his skill as a writer of historical fiction many times over. Nor was I saddened by the conclusion to the book, which was fairly upbeat considering all of the great and terrible things that had happened to its hero, Captain Isaac Biddlecomb, through the course of its pages.

But it was the last volume in Nelson's five-book series, Revolution at Sea, which took Biddlecomb from being a successful Rhode Island merchant and smuggler in the American Colonies to being a heroic figure in the new United States Navy, which dared to match its tiny might against the unbeatable strength of the British fleet.

We've been with Biddlecomb as he made and lost his fortune, lost his ship, was pressed, mutinied, married and more. We've seen him outwit the more experienced military leaders of the British navy and prevail against daunting odds. We've felt the deck heave beneath our feet in foul weather, flew along the ocean when fair breezes blew and suffered the mind-numbing frustration of the doldrums. We've been shaken by the impact of cannonballs and cutlasses in our midst.

It's been a rollicking series, much in the tradition of Aubrey and Hornblower, that brought the early American naval tradition to life. And All the Brave Fellows, set in 1777, brings it all to an end with a crash.

It seems simple, at the beginning, when Biddlecomb sets sail for Philadelphia -- with his new bridge and baby in tow -- to take command of the new frigate Falmouth. But things never go easy for poor Isaac, and much of the book is spent simply trying to get there, despite the daring wrecks, fierce attacks and enemy blockades that stand in his way. Meanwhile, a feisty shipwright and a ragtag band of rebel deserters do their level best to ensure the ship is still waiting for him when he arrives.

But the British, who are taking Philadelphia come hell or high water, would dearly love to deprive the Americans of a ship so powerful as the Falmouth. And, as if that weren't enough, Biddlecomb has some very highly placed enemies among the British fleet who would do almost anything to see him hanging from a yardarm or on the point of a sword.

This is, by far, the most action-packed volume in the series. And Nelson has certainly kept my enthusiasm for the story aflame. I only regret that the continuing saga of Biddlecomb -- and his adventures on the Falmouth surely should have deserved some attention -- has come to an end.

review by
Tom Knapp

20 June 2009

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new