Fictional accounts of the Royal Navy in the Age of Sail, while exciting, tend to follow a predictable storyline of a tough and resilient junior officer working his way upwards in rank while heroically leading his crew to victory over Napoleon’s finest. A reader may be excused for thinking the genre to be little more than spinoffs of the life and career of the great naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson. J.D. Davies has shaken things up a bit with his tale of Captain Matthew Quinton. Young Quinton serves in the fleet of Charles II and is as far from a highly skilled Nelson clone as is possible. In these times of governmental uncertainty, captains were rated more for their political reliability than professional experience or competence. Indeed, the novel begins with Quinton sinking his own ship!
Instead of being cashiered from the service, our hero is assigned command of H.M.S. Jupiter, a warship whose previous captain may have been murdered by the crew. Quinton is determined to prove himself worthy and accepts the challenge of taking his ship in harm’s way in the face of a potential Scottish rebellion while simultaneously being instructed in seamanship by a trusted sailor.
While it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Quinton will prove worthy of command, the process by which he interacts with a very colorful set of officers and sailors and a well-drawn political and military situation in Scotland make the voyage both enjoyable and interesting. Davies, a recognized authority on sea life in the 17th century, demonstrates he is as capable of spinning a good naval yarn as he is of dissecting the particulars of naval history.