S. Thomas Russell,
Under Enemy Colors
(Putnam, 2007)

During the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars that followed, the British navy was a crowded and heroic service. Now it's time to count Lt. Charles Saunders Hayden among the likes of Hornblower, Aubrey, Easy and Ramage, as well as other fictional seamen who regularly and with great resolve foiled the efforts of the French fleet.

Hayden is the creation of author S. Thomas Russell, and his first appearance here, in 1793, is a fruitful one. Lacking a prominent sponsor among the admirality -- and under a cloud of suspicion among some of his peers for having a French mother -- Hayden considers himself lucky to land a first lieutenant's posting on the frigate Themis ... although Capt. Josiah "Damn Your Eyes" Hart, under whom he must serve, has a reputation for brutality among his own men and cowardice against the French.

Themis is certainly not a happy ship when Hayden comes aboard, although he makes remarkable progress in getting her ship-shape by the time the captain retires on board.

Hayden directs his recalcitrant crew through a great many adventures, in spite of their own misgivings and their captain's belligerent opposition. There are great sea battles and secret missions, plenty of intrigue and even a mutiny and courts-martial.

Through it all, Russell provides readers with a working knowledge of ship's life and the workings of rigging and crew without ever sounding like a nautical textbook. Unlike some naval novels I've read, I never paused in this one, confused by what was going on.

As a central character, Hayden is a pleasant companion. A selfless and competent officer, he is yet plagued with self-doubts and torn loyalties.

Russell has a gift for supporting characters, too, from Hart and his toadying second lieutenant, Landry, to the corpulent (an overused word here, one of Russell's few failings) bosun, the steadfast captain of marines, the Maturin-like ship's surgeon and the over-achieving noble midshipman. There's even a budding love interest, although Hayden spends little time ashore.

I'm writing this review while very, very tired. For this, I have Russell to blame; Under Enemy Colors is a hard book to put down, and I found myself reading late into the night on a few too many occasions. I offer that as a compliment to the author and look forward to Hayden's next adventure.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Tom Knapp

17 September 2011

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new