In picking up this book the naval fiction reader must expect a different experience because, as the author says in his introduction, it was originally conceived as a nonfiction work and it's the true story of the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Java.
At the outset therefore, if you have even a modest knowledge of the events of the War of 1812 at sea, you know how the books going to end. However this work is a whole new experience for the fiction reader and serves equally well as a scholarly work for the devotee of nonfiction.
After the scene is set, amusingly from an 1845 anecdote, the book really falls into three distinct sections with the focus of the book moving back and forth between the two ships. At the outset they are in their home ports refitting and taking on stores. There is a lot of detail of these processes which will fully inform those new to the genre as well as revealing some new facts to those who, like myself, pride themselves on knowing quite a bit about it. It also starts to bring out the similarities and differences between the two navies.
The next section covers the voyages, making clear the missions of the two vessels as well as, through conversations between the officers, revealing the characters of the main protagonists and the history of the ships and the principal officers.
The final section is, of course, the climactic battle between HMS Java and 'Old Ironsides'. The exciting narrative of the fight brings out a wealth of detail of the tactics employed, the manoeuvres etc and leaves the reader fully informed as to what really happened.
Most naval books, both fiction and non-fiction, will explore their subject with a marked leaning towards one of the respective forces but The Perfect Wreck - Old Ironsides and HMS Java: A Story of 1812 employs a neutral stance and fully explores the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. If you want to learn something of the navies of the period, learn about this particular battle of just want to enjoy a naval fiction book this is one for you. Recommended.
Description of: The Perfect Wreck - Old Ironsides and HMS Java: A Story of 1812
Author: Steven E. Maffeo