Our Lives, Our Fortunes

Written by J.E. Fender
Review by B. J. Sedlock

According to his website, Fender set out to create a fictional American naval hero to rival British captains Hornblower and Aubrey. In this third book of the Frost Saga set in 1776, Geoffrey Frost sails his privateer, Audacity, to Britain and attacks the collier fleet at Tynemouth. On his return to America, he volunteers to lead a group of drovers overland to convey captured British provisions to George Washington’s troops somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania. The arrival of supplies revives the disheartened troops, whereupon Washington conscripts Frost and his men to use their boat-wagons to ferry the Continental army across the Delaware for a daring night attack on Trenton.

I have not read the prior volumes of the series, and would not recommend starting with this one. Volume 3 does not reveal much backstory. For example, Frost repeatedly refers to his crewman Ming Tsun as his best friend, but in this volume Ming acts as a servant who stays largely in the background. Previous volumes presumably explain their relationship more clearly.

Fender falls into a common trap for historical novelists: dispensing historical facts in a manner that does not propel the story forward. Washington says, “Know you, Captain Frost, that Philadelphia is second only to London in population among the English-speaking world? Who would think it?” in the middle of a paragraph that is supposed to be about using boats to cross the Delaware and has little to do with Philadelphia. And that isn’t the only instance of research results dropped awkwardly into conversations.

However, despite those drawbacks, I was intrigued enough with the adventure and period detail to want to go back and read volume 1, to get the rest of the story and understand the characters better.