The Blackstrap Station

Written by Alaric Bond
Review by Tom Vallar

Alaric Bond’s ninth entry in the Fighting Sail series (after HMS Prometheus, HNR May ´16) follows the remnant of that doomed ship’s crew in enemy (French) territory from the winter of 1803 through the summer of 1804. Through both stealth and luck they manage to evade capture on land, seize a French corvette (with assistance from another British warship’s boarding party), and commit themselves well in a second encounter with a notorious French ship of the line. The story features a choleric Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and alludes to, but doesn’t yet meet up with, Nelson’s Mediterranean fleet.

Despite this being my first read of Bond’s nautical adventures, I didn’t feel lost, though keeping track of 48 named characters on three ships was daunting at first. I was disconcerted though when, after nine chapters of minute-by-minute narrative, we jump six months forward and tell the next three chapters in flashback. Yet Bond’s true strength as a storyteller is characterization, and you can’t help cheering for the underdog and seething against the success of the bully.

Be prepared for an onslaught of nautical terms that even Bond’s 11-page glossary comes up a dozen or so words short of covering completely. Despite the title, “blackstrap” is mentioned only once and has no plot consequence. Nevertheless, this book remains a commendable maritime tale of survival under the direst of circumstances.