V.A. Stuart,
Phillip Hazard #1: The Valiant Sailors
(Robert Hale, 1966; McBooks, 2003)

Beginning a new nautical series is usually a treat, and one from McBooks -- a careful and quality publisher of historical fiction -- is most often an auspicious occasion. So I was delighted to start The Valiant Sailors, the first volume in V.A. Stuart's Phillip Hazard series.

Unlike the majority of books in the genre, Valiant Sailors is not set against the backdrop of Britain's wars with France, but rather is launched at the onset of hostilities between Turkey and Russia.

Phillip Hazard is a likable and capable man, first lieutenant on the steam frigate Trojan. Both ship and crew are far better than the Trojan's mean-spirited and heavy-handed captain should warrant; much of their success is accomplished in spite of, rather than because of, Captain North's cruel leadership.

The action takes place on land and sea, and involves a beautiful and mysterious passenger who catches Hazard's eye far more than is appropriate or, quite possibly, safe. There is also some well-scripted interplay among the officers and men of the Trojan, including Hazard's less accomplished brother, Graham, who believes that changing his first name but keeping his surname intact will fool the British navy into thinking he's someone else. Even a brief period of captivity, after a gallant rescue operation on a stranded British vessel, provides great insight into Russian society.

The greatest failing here is Stuart's lack of detail regarding the ship itself. Steam-driven ships were a far cry from the previous generation's fleet, which had only wind and tide to drive it, and many of the officers during the Crimean War were slow to grasp the possibilities of a steamship's maneuverability. Stuart touches only lightly on the subject, however, and the dangers inherent in the new technology are ignored completely. (For a more comprehensive look at steam-driven warships, read James Nelson's brief series, The Confederate Navy.)

Still, Phillip Hazard appeals to me, and the strengths of this book outweigh its failings. I would happily sail with Stuart again.

book review by
Tom Knapp

26 November 2011

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