William H. White,
The War of 1812 #1: A Press of Canvas
(Tiller, 2000)

In the years following the American Revolution, U.S. merchant ships suffered mightily as British naval vessels routinely stopped and boarded them and pressed prime sailors under the often-flimsy pretense that they were British deserters.

Isaac Biggs, born and raised in Massachusetts, has the misfortune to be taken from the American merchant ship Anne en route to St. Maarten in 1810. Before he knows it, he and two shipmates -- none of whom are actually British deserters -- are signed aboard HMS Orpheus with little hope of seeing their homes for years to come.

Biggs attempts to make the best of a bad situation, even serving bravely during conflicts with French ships and securing for himself a share of the prizes. But then the United States declares war on England, and Biggs finds himself an American sailor serving on a British ship of war -- against his own country.

A Press of Canvas is the first novel in a three-book series by William H. White that focuses on the War of 1812. While White does not have the grace or depth of writing that Forester, O'Brien and Nelson have demonstrated so decisively in the past, he tells a good and lively story that certainly places him in the forefront of contemporary nautical writers.

The only major flaw in the book is a coincidence of astronomical proportions in the third part of the book that stretches credulity to the breaking point.

Otherwise, Biggs is a capable seaman and a likeable protagonist, and he is surrounded by a variety of diverse and interesting characters. While few of the supporting cast receive much in-depth development, we can look for more growth among them in the next two books in the series.

review by
Tom Knapp

30 January 2010

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