A Tainted Dawn: The Great War 1792-1815, Book 1

Written by B.N. Peacock
Review by Richard Bourgeois

The beginning of an intended series spanning the Georgian/Regency period (or, si vous préférez, the Revolutionary/Napoleonic), A Tainted Dawn follows the fortunes of three young men: one an English aristocrat schooled atEton, the second an impoverished fiddler, and lastly a well-born Frenchman with revolution in his heart. Of these three tales, two are told quite well. The story of Edward Deveare, cheated of his inheritance and escaping to a life at sea, is a perfectly serviceable naval yarn. Perhaps the author steers a course a point too close to the well-worn Hornblower formula—our young midshipman is abused by his mess-mates and a cruel captain, and stumbles his way from fo’c’sle to main t’gallant in battered stockings until rescued by a less flog-happy captain who becomes a father figure.

What’s unique to this book is the unifying theme of liberty. Edward’s rare respect for “the people” (that is, the common sailors) of a King’s Ship parallels Frenchman Louis’s devotion to Republican égalité. That these two are destined for bloody enmity is plain, and tension mounts as they run afoul of one another repeatedly in the early stage of their military careers. Much less clear are the chapters featuring the fiddler Jemmy, who ends the book on dry land thousands of miles from the other two lads and with no apparent connection between his story and theirs. Certainly the author intends a stronger link later in the series, but the debut would have held together better without the scamp.