Thursday, May 24, 2018
BOOK REVIEW: THE CAPTAIN'S NEPHEW
Author: Philip K. Allan
Editors note: Having trouble locating this bokk by author search. We were alerted by Mr. Allan that we originally misspelled his name Allen vice Allan. We have tried to correct that error below. But our research indicates that we are not the only reviewers or even book vendors using the wrong spelling. So if you haven't found this book yet or other works by this author try the correct spelling and please accept our apologies for not producing it in the fiorst place.
Through the 1690s into the 1790s Europe was engaged in wars, revolutions, and conquests for sea control and colonies. This was the age of wooden ships and iron men. The fictional character First Lieutenant Alexander Clay, and the ship he serves on,the frigate AGRIUS are sort of prototypes of the time.Clay, like the popular fictional Horatio Hornblower is a self made officer among the blue bloods of the time.
In the real world "Capt. James Cook" joined the Royal navy after earning a Masters license in the Merchant Marine but had to accept a starting position as only an able seaman. At 42 he had climbed through the ranks to the warrant officer grades as a sailing master, the warranted officer who often carried out the daily duties of "Captain"; while the more politically favored and sometimes incompetent commissioned officer held the title of "Captain" and responsibility for the overall mission of the ship. The non commissioned "Sailing Master" pretty much took care of the navigation, operation, and maintenance of the ship. Yet the Sailing Master was rarely the titular "Executive Officer" (considered number two in succession to command). Every now and then the Admiralty needed an officer who was both tremendously technically competent, a leader, and expendable. Such an officer was James Cook, "deep selected" from the warrant officer corps and given a Lieutenant's commission, the lowest commissioned rank eligible for command it was he who was sent to explore the Pacific after a number of failed attempts by the blue blood corps. The Admiralty knew he was superbly competent and that if any one could complete the mission and return to England it would be Cook, They also knew that if he didn't, explaining his loss vice some blue blood distant relative to the crown, and the old coal collier given him as a ship, vice a nice new frigate. would be a lot easier to explain, if any one showed any interest.
Hornblower and Clay are patterned after officers like Cook who was not one of a kind. I enjoyed reading the Hornblower series by C.S. Forester. Through Hornblower was a fictional character his adventures helped make an indelible impression on me of what life was really like for my professional ancestors in that era. Clay is cut of similar cloth to the Hornblower character, but if anything he is a more complex and interesting character. A good man but not the paragon of virtue, and so not as predictable as Hornblower, Clay is still one of those officers the Royal Navy called on when competency counted and so his career became "interesting". In this novel the "Captain" is one Captain Percy Follett a firm believer in nepotism and he has a nephew aboard. He favors his nephew, an officer junior to Clay over Clay, but keep in mind that Percy is no mere blue blood stick figure , but a complex and reasonably competent man of his time and circumstances. He is a major irritant to Clay but not exactly an evil figure. As mentioned previously neither is Clay the paragon of virtue that Hornblower is usually depicted as. The drama and interaction between and among these characters is mostly played out on the compact decks of the RMS AGRIUS and among the colorful society aboard as they set out on a hunt for privateers and encounter North Atlantic fog, a desperate transatlantic chase, and a series of adventures that stretch from the coast of Flanders to the tropical Caribbean.
This is an adventure tale that spans half the globe in an age where few people ever got much further from the village where they were born than 20 miles. The protagonists have learned to harness the wind and live a far different life than their shore bound contemporaries. When I first read Forester I wondered how he ever came up with such stories and such realism. In many ways Phillip K. Allan surpasses Forrester in realism.
Some time ago a friend gave me an antique leather bound copy of decisions from a British Prize Court. Reading that, I pretty much caught on where Forester and Allen get the nucleus of their material. The era really was pretty much like they describe it, and the number of incredible naval missions that sound like the script from a swashbuckler movie were great in number and thanks to courts of admiralty, prize courts, and naval tribunals well documented. The fiction writers simply flesh out what's between the lines of these sources and the best of them, people the story with highly believable characters. In short, the Allans and Foresters bring the era alive in books and sometimes movies and make us truly appreciate what these extraordinary naval people were like.
Maybe one day Mr. Allan will tackle the life in the "Stone Frigates" the cheap boarding houses ashore where sailors often waited for their next ship and where the real , hard, dirty, impoverished life of the British commoners of the day was lived out, occasionally in contact with the sailors who lived in an equally harsh but much wider world. We read much of the impressment gangs of the era, but like Captain Cook, there were many commoners who chose the naval life freely, and many an impressed seaman enlisted voluntarily after one of these voyages. If all your choices involve a life of hardship which is short and brutal; why wouldn't you choose one that also had travel, adventure, and on occasion offered through promotion and prize money a chance to change your life?
Check out THE CAPTAIN'S NEPHEW and look for more books by Phillip K. Allan at Amazon. Click here for a short cut. https://www.amazon.com/Captains-Nephew-Alexander-Clay-Book-ebook/dp/B078Z35T7K/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1527189844&sr=1-1&keywords=THE+CAPTAINS+NEPHEW
The CAPTAINS NEPHEW is book 1 of what is so far a three part series of the adventures of Lieutenant Clay. We look forward to many more books by Mr. Allan who seems to have the kind of feel for the era that Forester had.
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