Tyranny’s Bloody Standard (The Philippe Kermorvant Thrillers, 2)

Written by J. D. Davies
Review by V. E. H. Masters

It’s 1794, and Philippe Kermorvant, Vicomte de Saint-Victor, the son of an aristocratic English mother and a French nobleman, has command of a French naval ship. The French Revolution is at its height; indeed, this is the year Robespierre goes to the guillotine, and to be both the son of an aristocrat and half-English is perilous. However, Philippe never swerves in his commitment to the new Republic of France. And this is where the book is at its most fascinating, certainly for this reader. The language used, ‘Citizen Captain’, references to the destruction of ‘wanton idolatry’ in churches, and the isolation of France (for Republicans are not loved anywhere in Europe) as all the country’s neighbours recoil in horror and fear at the grim end of its royals – this all forms an illuminating backdrop to the story and is subtly dealt with. Philippe is involved in a series of skirmishes at sea and ends up in the great harbour at Valletta moored next to a ship of Naples – yet another enemy to France. But Malta, despite being the home of the Knights of St John, is neutral, and the two ships end up putting to sea to fight ‘a duel’. This is a clever touch, and the descriptions of the battle and life at sea, generally, are evocative and given with convincing detail.

This is the second in a series, and there are story threads from the first which will likely continue to the third. Having not read the first, I struggled sometimes to engage with the characters and their motivations, and especially as to why Philippe was not immediately turning all his efforts to avenging the death of his wife and son. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable and, at times insightful, read covering the impact of the French Revolution on Europe from a rare perspective.