With its captivating, pungent, and sharply drawn characters, this first installment in a series of sea stories is a welcome addition to the Napoleonic sea story genre. Jean Cotterell, captain of a Jersey fishing vessel, loses his ship and crew to a violent gale off the coast of Nova Scotia. He alone survives, to be plucked from the sea by a French warship. He recognizes the captain of the Hortense as the brutal privateer who murdered his father, an event he witnessed many years ago. Concealing his hatred, his desire for vengeance, and his identity, Jean discovers that the French crew is decimated by illness and left ill-prepared for imminent attack by an English warship.
Battered by cannon and sinking with bilge, the Hortense limps across the ocean, her cruel captain desperately wounded. Cotterell must use all his seafaring skills in an attempt to save the ship, his enemies, and the few friends he’s made on board. At the conclusion of his adventure, he finds himself imprisoned, forced to pay for his freedom with a challenging form of servitude.
The situations depicted are desperate yet lightened by a dry humor and witty exchanges. Bowling takes his reader to the heart of the action, be it a storm, a sea battle, or a shipboard amputation, sparing no detail. The narrative and dialogue are both prosaic and poetic. A rousing, impressive start to the series.