Dudley Pope,
Ramage at Trafalgar
(Martin Secker & Warburg, 1986; McBooks, 2002)

The action is slow to start. In fact, for the first few dozen pages, the book focuses on mundane matters such as Nicholas Ramage's recent inheritance of his uncle's estate and his butler thereupon, a discussion with his father about impending decisions regarding a different family estate and the future care of his wife, should Ramage die in the service, as well as the flattering but tedious award of an engraved sword for past heroism and a long, dull carriage ride.

Ramage and his wife, Sarah, meet Lord Nelson, Nelson's mistress Emma Hamilton and their adorable daughter, Horatia, and even that is more exciting than other early chapters of the book.

But the book is called Ramage at Trafalgar, so you know it's going to get interesting soon.

Sure enough, Ramage and his ship Calypso are ordered to join Nelson's fleet off Cadiz where, as a frigate among far larger ships of the line, Ramage is ordered to perform surveillance and signaling duties as Nelson attempts to lure the numerically superior combined French and Spanish fleet to sea.

Suffice it to say, Ramage does his part -- despite having a smaller ship -- to improve the British odds before the battle ensues and, once the fleet puts to sea and meets the British warships in a brilliant strategic maneuver plotted by Nelson, Ramage defies his orders to engage with a French frigate on the outskirts of the fray.

Author Dudley Pope manages to present a clear view of Nelson's strategy, which crushed the opposition at, ultimately, the cost of his own life. At the same time, he thrusts his fictional hero, Ramage, into the action and makes him a part of the narrative.

Despite the slow beginning, Ramage at Trafalgar is an excellent read.

book review by
Tom Knapp

29 October 2016

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