Edwards asks his readers for a prodigious suspension of disbelief. It is hardly credible that a humble apprentice (all unknown to himself) should inherit the largest fortune in England. It stretches belief even further that his two half-brothers and their mother, who want the fortune for themselves, should be utterly debauched, unscrupulous and ruthless. Our credulity is further assailed upon learning that, when empressed (illegally) into the Royal Navy (it is 1793), our apprentice winds up serving in a ship one of whose officers is his murderous elder half-brother.
Finally, is it possible that the apprentice should, within a few weeks of coming aboard as a landsman, not only master the seaman’s craft enough to become bosun of a frigate, but grow to become the biggest, strongest and – proven in single combat – toughest hand aboard? (Much of the arcana of British culture – like the rules of cricket – remains closed to me. Rather than reveal what a stone is, my English friends simply assure me that someone who weighs sixteen stone is a big man.)
Still, I’m a sucker for a good yarn, and Edwards spins an engaging one. Alternate chapters follow the machinations of his evil step-family (a suite of loathsome misdeeds that, while not naval adventure, are fun reading), and events aboard ship. It is the shipboard narrative that redeems any other flaws in the book. These chapters are written in the first person, using the voice of our roguish-but-loveable ex-apprentice. No unreliable narrator here – Jacob Fletcher is as he presents himself. It is a refreshing change to see the Royal Navy viewed from before the mast. I enjoyed the vivid and sympathetic passages of life on the gun deck. Edwards does a fine job sailing and fighting his frigate. He writes particularly well about gunnery. And the story does not lack for hot action. We are treated to a cutting out expedition, ship duels and a boarding action, all compellingly written.
Readers of historic naval fiction will not regret time spent with this book, even if the surprising resolution requires one final leap of faith.
Description of: Fletcher's Fortune
Author: J. C. Edwards