S. Thomas Russell,
A Battle Won
(Putnam, 2010)

Recently given a ship of his own for services rendered in Under Enemy Colors, Charles Saunders Hayden, master and commander in His Majesty's Royal Navy, is disappointed to see it taken away in exchange for a temporary assignment aboard his former command, the ill-favored frigate Themis. While he's admittedly happy to be back among the officers and crew he whipped into serviceable shape in the previous novel, Hayden realizes that the escort duty to the Mediterranean, where he will be asked to turn the ship over to another captain, will leave him far from home and without a ship.

But author S. Thomas Russell has much more in mind for his hero in A Battle Won. The convoy mission goes awry, of course, and the situation in the Mediterranean when he arrives is not at all what he expected.

Soon, Hayden is embroiled in a series of thrilling adventures, from a narrow escape from an occupied city and the liberation of Corsica from French troops to a dramatic romantic misunderstanding and an acrimonious golf match among officers and clergy. The fact that much of the Corsican assignment takes place on a rocky landscape, rather than the heaving deck of a storm-torn frigate, shouldn't worry readers unduly; the tasks before Hayden will soon have him proving the abilities of the average British tar on land as well as sea despite the low opinion of the English army.

Hayden is a strong, well-developed protagonist, and many of the supporting characters here are equally strong. Russell does have the habit of writing black and white characters -- captains who agree with Hayden's plans, for instance, tend to be brave and noble, while those who disagree with him are usually rash or cowardly -- but that never seems to get in the way of telling a good story.

There are a good many blockades in Hayden's path toward advancement, and it's fun to see how Russell provides him with occasional, unlikely and sometimes highly placed allies along the way. One never doubts that Hayden will succeed in his aims, but getting there was enough to keep me turning pages. With adventures based on various real events from the era, a ton of meticulous research and a gifted hand with a pen, Russell has crafted the start of what I expect will be an excellent series.

Let's just hope that they three-year gap between the first and second novels was an anomaly, and that the third volume will soon be available. After all, Russell kind of leaves you hanging there at the end....

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Tom Knapp

29 October 2011

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