My latest bedtime reading is yet another Napoleonic naval adventure, although not the Adriatic for a change. It's a wonder I don't get seasick in bed! What's different about this book by J.D. Davies is that it's about the French Navy.
Our hero is Philippe Kermorvant, and the action is set in 1793, at the height of the Terror. Contrary to the publisher's pitch, he was the son of a minor French aristocrat, which would typically be a bit challenging in the France of this period. However, his father was also a philosopher with radical ideas, exiled to North America. His mother was English, albeit estranged from her husband.
The young Phillippe joined the fledgeling US Navy during the American revolution and then fought in the Russian Navy. He, therefore, had the much-needed experience to offer when he returned to France. Despite this, he nearly ended up under the guillotine twice before taking command of a French frigate operating out of Brest.
I won't spoil the story, but it has all the elements you would expect from naval fiction in this genre. Politics, some love interest and battles on land and sea. The difference is the challenge of commanding a ship without the strict discipline of the Royal Navy, where leadership has to be earned, and the crew are a long way from the necessary effectiveness. In addition, the French Navy of the period lost most of its experienced officers, and their replacements were either recruited from the ranks or from the merchant marine.
Davies strikes the right balance between the detail of sailing a ship of the period and keeping the story flowing. He also captures the period well and the unique challenges facing French captains. Overall, an excellent read and as the reader is left in suspense at the end, I suspect there will be more.
|A French frigate and brig for Black Seas.