AOS Book Reviews


This section contains reviews of AOS books by David Hayes and members of the forum (Modern Era Reviews)

Richard Spilman Review: The Beckoning Ice by Joan Druett

The Beckoning IceOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

Joan Druett's The Beckoning Ice, the fifth in her series of Wiki Coffin nautical mysteries, begins in 1839, on the sealer Betsey of Stonington, homeward bound from "a short but very profitable season far south of Cape Horn." The schooner is very nearly wrecked on a massive iceberg, which looms suddenly out of the fog. The terror of nearly hitting the ice island is only made worse by the corpse of a man, apparently bludgeoned to dead, frozen on a ledge on the face of the ice.

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Richard Spilman Review: The Tainted Prize by M. C. Muir

The Tainted PrizeOriginally published on the The Old Salt Blog

The Tainted Prize is Margaret Muir's second book of the Oliver Quintrell series. After sending Captain Quintrell to the bottom of the world in pursuit of Floating Gold, the admiralty is confident in the good captain's discretion. It is 1803. The Peace of Amiens has collapsed. Captain Quintrell is given command of the frigate HMS Perpetual and is set off on a secret mission to South America to search for a missing frigate and to undertake a diplomatic mission that might impact the outcome of the war with Bonaparte and France. In addition to coping with French corvettes, privateers and slavers, Quintrell and the officers and crew of HMS Perpetual must also face the Southern Ocean and the winding and treacherous Straits of Magellan.

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Joan Druett Review: Hell Around the Horn by Rick Spilman

Hell Around the HornThose Gallant Seamen Get their Story Told at Last

Ringing with authenticity, this nail-biter is a tale of battling wind and weather to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the most dreaded landmark in the sailor's lexicon, Cape Horn.

Stories of ships in the Age of Sail are usually told from the quarterdeck, and the fight is against other ships. Rick Spilman's novel, by contrast, revisits the windjammer era when men fought the elements with just rope and canvas, using muscle and willpower to get a freight to a destination. In the tradition of old salts who once wrote hugely popular stories of life under sail -- men like "Shalimar" (F. C. Hendry), Captain F. Coffin, Jan de Hartog and Alexander Bone -- "Hell Around the Horn" tells it like it was for the ordinary people who lived unthinkably dangerous lives at sea, from the point of view of the foc'sle and the half-deck, as well as the cabin.

Based on real events, this is the story of one captain's struggle to get his ship to port, with just his seafaring knowledge and his increasingly weary crew to help, and with the added problem of a bloodyminded mate. A detail I particularly liked was that he had his wife and family with him. Spilman reveals her experiences through her letters, which are as convincingly written as the rest of the book.

Thoroughly recommended to all salt water souls, armchair sailors in particular.

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Review: When Washington Burned by Arnold Blumberg

When Washington BurnedAs someone with an interest in naval history I have read both fiction and non fiction works about the various sea battles of the War of 1812 and of the naval campaigns on the Great Lakes. However whilst I was aware that there was fighting on the Canadian border, that the British invaded and burnt Washington and there was a battle for New Orleans I had not read a work that covered the whole war and put the various battles on land and sea both in a chronological order and within the political and strategic aims of both sides.

Without drowning me in too much detail, When Washington Burned by Arnold Blumberg proved to be an excellent overview of the reasons both sides had to go to war and then ultimately seek to end what was really a pointless conflict. The battle information included brief histories of the commanding officers involved, the units involved, main manoeuvres and casualties all accompanied by plenty of contemporary illustrations and some maps.

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Review: The Sea-God at Sunrise by G. L. Tysk

The Sea-God at SunriseThe Sea-God at Sunrise is about two young Japanese fishermen, Shima and his younger brother Takao, and their interaction with the crew of an American whaler which rescues them after they are shipwrecked by a typhoon.

At the time in which the book is set Japan is a closed country so the book follows attempts to repatriate the boys and their subsequent voyage on the whaler. Each side has little knowledge of the others lives and customs and of course language is initially a barrier. These basic facts enable Tysk to fully explore these differences and inform the reader as the perspective alternates between Shima and one of the ships officers.

If you are looking for detailed descriptions of ship handling this is a not a book for you as it is hardly mentioned and indeed there are a couple of minor errors and typos although these did not detract. However, that the author has researched whaling is evident and this aspect of shipboard life and the small boat hunts are fully and graphically depicted.

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Julian Mackrell Review: The Jamaican Affair of 1805 by John Mahon

The Jamaican Affair of 1805In over 40 years of reading nautical fiction, I can honestly say this book is the worst by a comfortable margin. The only positive observation I can make is that Mahon has made a passable attempt to integrate his plot into the Hornblower canon. However, his characterization of Hornblower and Maria are so far removed from Forester's as to be virtually unrecognisable.

I could ramble on at length about the many failings of this book, but life is too short: The Jamaican Affair Of 1805 is a poor example of the genre, poorly conceived and poorly written with no attempt to create any sense of period either in speech or actions. Mahon demonstrates little understanding of the Georgian Royal Navy, nor of the essence of Hornblower, despite claiming to be a long time fan.

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