A Darker Sea

Written by James L. Haley
Review by Thomas j. Howley

Young American naval officer Bliven Putnam, who was last seen battling Barbary pirates at the turn of the century, is back again. This time he is in action against the most powerful maritime force on the planet, the British navy. Now a Master Commandant, waiting to command his own small 20-gun brig, Bliven sees early action on the storied USS Constitution. With his sea legs back, he then takes his own ship, Tempest, to hunt British shipping in the South Atlantic. After harassing the Empire and taking several prizes, his little brig is overtaken and ignominiously defeated by the much more powerful and capable British frigate Java. As a prisoner on board the Java, Bliven meets his former navy shipmate, Southern aristocrat Sam Bandy, who is an impressed US merchant sea captain. Very soon, the Java runs into the Constitution, setting the stage for the famous and classic ship battle of titans.

As in the previous debut by novelist and historian Haley, one discovers many little-known facts in this exciting and informative book. One third of the British Navy was impressed; there were 1,060 British sailing ships to 19 cruising vessels for the Americans; the king was “now famously imbecile, a raving wigless waif.” The pencil was a recent invention in 1812, a great advance for mariners. Only 1 in 20 of captured black slaves came to the U.S. South; the rest were shipped to the Caribbean islands and Central and South America.

This is an epic story of a young officer’s struggle to find and rescue his enslaved friend and get back home to his bucolic New England farm and beloved wife. Strongly recommended.