Dudley Pope,
Ramage's Challenge
(Martin Secker & Warburg, 1986; McBooks, 2002)

His captaincy secure after a positive outcome to a bogus court martial in Ramage's Trial, Nicholas Ramage is ordered into the Mediterranean -- French-held territory in the ongoing war against Bonaparte -- to try and rescue a group of British nobles and military leaders who are being held hostage along the Tuscan coast of Italy.

The Tuscany region is, of course, where it all began for Ramage. Readers of the series will know that his first adventure started there, in the thick of battle, and it's there he met his first great love. Now, he's back, and he has what seems like an impossible task ahead: The hostages are likely held in an in-shore fortress, and he has no army at his disposal for a frontal assault or siege.

Once he rescues them, as of course we knew he must, there is an unforeseen complication. Plus, one of the rescued hostages, an army general, is a real pain in Ramage's ass.

I love this series, which must be evident from being 15 books into it. I will say, however, that the books have been declining lately, and this one is probably the weakest in the series so far. A few reasons why:

The book is somewhat repetitive, in that author Dudley Pope often tells us details that he later repeats in a slightly different form. Ramage, often when he should be focused on matters at hand, seems to be drifting more and more often into reveries and daydreams. He muses often on the minutiae of ship life, as if he wants to impart to readers a bit of education as well as an adventure. These are all issues I've seen occurring more often in recent books in this series. Here specifically, there is a lot of marching, which isn't what one expects to find in a naval book. There's only one battle of note, and it's on land rather than the sea. And the one conflict between ships has a resolution that strains credulity.

That said, I still enjoyed the book, enough that there's no doubt I'll continue the series. It is getting very near the end -- Pope penned 18 novels about Ramage -- and I will be sad to see it end.

book review by
Tom Knapp

25 June 2016

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