I've just finished the first book in the trilogy, The Eaglet at the Battle of Minorca and I am happy to report a successful mission. Mariner* is a talented writer who draws the reader into the the story of Winchip's first missions in command of the Eaglet during the months leading up to the Battle of Minorca, while skillfully interweaving short flashbacks, bits of narrative and dialogue to reveal Winchip's back story without boring the reader.
In this tale, we witness several of Winchip's encounters with Admiral Byng, who is presented in a very favorable light, despite the incongruities of an admiral expressing dissatisfaction with his superiors to a subordinate. This I forgave, attributing it to a bit of artistic license that allowed Mariner to reveal the admiral's inner thoughts without subjecting us to reading boring letters, or having to unrealistically place Winchip in the position of over-hearing conversations between Byng and his confidants. In any event, we are left with a picture of Byng as a courageous, honorable leader who is intent on doing his best for his king and country.
Mariner also does well with conveying the difficulties of a captain "serving two masters" who definitely seem to be at odds: Admiral Byng and General Thomas Fowke, governor of Gibralter. There was a definite balancing act required of a subordinate in that situation, and this was clearly presented in a way to allow the reader to appreciate the tact displayed by Winchip.
While Mariner does an excellent job of describing single-ship encounters, never leaving me with any confusion as to what is happening, he fares a little less well with the major battle at the end. I never really had the sense that I knew what was happening. Maybe that was a deliberate choice to put the reader in the viewpoint of the characters on the scene who rarely got an overall view of a major battle until the history was written, but I'm not sure. Winchip takes a significant part in the battle, but I never really had the sense that I knew what he saw to make him see that his action was necessary. Perhaps an illustration or two would have helped.
There were several references to captains blaming the result of the battle, or excusing their own actions during the battle, as being due to their adherence to the Fighting Instructions. It would have been nice if Mariner had included some explanation of what these instructions were and why they led the admiral and captains to fail to perform to their utmost. Perhaps he could not figure out how to do so without interrupting the flow of the story.
I never really got any understanding as to why Byng made the decision to retreat to Gibralter ... perhaps I wasn't meant to.
In the Epilogue, Mariner does a good job of explaining why their Lordships decided to court martial Byng, somewhat giving the lie to the assertion that it was done "pour encourager les autres".
In any event, I have no problem recommending this novel without reservation, and plan to continue my search for copies of the other books in the series.
* that has to be a pen name, regardless of what the bio on the jacket says.
Description of: The Eaglet at the Battle of Minorca
Author: John Mariner