Book Reviews

Some of the reviews by people who have read my novels:

In The Torrid Zone, Alaric Bond's latest novel in his Fighting Sail Series, HMS Scylla is due to return to England. Her crew is weary and the ship is in serious need of a refit. Yet, as soon as the ship reaches home waters, she is dispatched to St. Helena, a tiny island in the distant South Atlantic, with a cargo of East India Company gold and the new island governor, his wife and servants as passengers. What should be a simple mission becomes very complicated and dangerous with the arrival of a French squadron, brutal weather, a reckless diplomat, an enraged widow, and a murderous seaman — all set against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful and remote islands
in the world.

For newcomers, Bond's Fighting Sail Series is refreshingly rather different from conventional nautical fiction whose focus is on a single heroic character, usually the captain. The series features multiple characters and points of view which vividly capture the life aboard a Royal Navy man-of-war, from the lower decks to the captain's cabin. For fans of the series, it is great becoming reacquainted with the officers and crew of HMS Scylla once again. The choice of St. Helena is also a good one, because while important in history, the waters are a bit less well sailed in nautical fiction.

The Torrid Zone is a fine mix of action at sea and intrigue on land. Each has its beauty and dangers. Bond's characters are complex and believable, the pacing is brisk and the writing is delightful. The Torrid Zone is an excellent addition to the other fine books of the Fighting Sail Series. Highly recommended.

Originally published on The Old Salt Blog

"Alaric Bond, in his latest novel, Turn A Blind Eye, vividly captures the complex and often contradictory world of a seaside village caught between loyalty, prosperity, treachery and murder. It is 1801, on the coast of Sussex. England is at war with the French and its own countrymen. Commander Griffin, new to the customs service has much to learn. He commands the light but agile revenue cutter Bee in action against the often more heavily gunned French and their local smuggler allies. The even greater danger, however, may be ashore. At least at sea, he has a reasonable idea who is his enemy. Ashore, who can be trusted and who cannot, is not quite so clear.

The local fishermen can earn far more smuggling than they can catching fish. Nevertheless, for the fishing village, it may be a devil's bargain as the ruthless criminal gang behind the smuggling operation may demand a higher price than the village is willing to pay. For how long with they be able to simply "turn a blind eye?"

More that just nautical adventure, Turn A Blind Eye is a richly nuanced portrait of a fishing village trapped between criminals and the Crown. The novel blends vivid action at sea with gripping intrigue ashore as the young commander battles a ruthless gang of smugglers, while never quite knowing who is friend and who is foe. Turn A Blind Eye is a fascinating tale told by a master storyteller. Highly recommended."

Originally published on The Old Salt Blog

"Alaric Bond's The Patriot's Fate, the fifth in his Fighting Sail series, is an exciting nautical adventure that is also a rich and fascinating voyage through the history, politics and complex divided loyalties of Britain at the end of the eighteenth century.

Many novels in the genre follow the model used by C.S. Forester, Patrick O'Brian and so many others, where the focus is the career of a single Royal Navy officer. The Patriot's Fate, like the other books in Bond's Fighting Sail series, is told through multiple perspectives, ranging from the ship's captain, to the junior officers and warrants, to Jack Tars and the ship's boys. The approach gives a much broader sense of what is going on aboard ship. It works particularly well in The Patriot's Fate because it allows parallel and overlapping story lines that keep the novel moving along briskly.

In The Patriot's Fate, Bond has been careful in choosing his history. The climax of the book is the Battle of Tory Island in October of 1798. Just over two months before an admiral named Nelson ruined Napoleon's plans in Egypt at Aboukir Bay. The famous Battle of the Nile, as it has become known, is completely and refreshingly absent from The Patriot's Fate. The story of that battle is wonderful but it has been retold so often, in so many other novels, that as a reader I felt grateful to be taken elsewhere. While the Battle of Tory Island was far smaller than the Battle of the Nile, it was no less consequential, leading directly to the Treaty of Union between England and Ireland.

In 1798 the Society of United Irishmen, lead by the charismatic Wolfe Tone, is ready to rise again against the British. The French are again assisting the Irish by sending ships and troops. As a French fleet of troopships and men-of-war bears down on the coast of Ireland, a single British frigate must delay them until help arrives to stop the invasion. By the vagaries of chance and heritage, friends and shipmates find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. The sense of conflicting loyalty to friends, country and cause is especially gripping as the guns begin to fire.

Bond is especially good at creating believable and engaging characters. Readers of his past books will be pleased to be reunited with Captain Sir Richard Banks, Lieutenant Tom King, the Mannings and the unfortunate Irishman, Micheal Crowley, among others. New readers will be pleased to make their acquaintance. New characters like Betsey, the surgeon's wife, clever and capable, if just a touch lacking in virtue, are also great fun.

The Patriot's Fate is a gripping tale that is extremely difficult to put down. It left me sorry that it had ended and hungry for more. Highly recommended."

Originally published on The Old Salt Blog

"Well, he's done it again! The eagerly anticipated fifth instalment of Alaric Bond's 'Fighting Sail' series is with us at last and it is another corker! Set at the conclusion of the Irish uprising of 1798, with Britain's army brutally putting down the rebellion on land, The Patriot's Fate follows Wolf Tone's attempt to bring a French invasion force to bear while Royal Navy elements desperately seek to prevent them from landing. It is a story of cat-and-mouse on the high seas culminating in a dramatic climax.

As before in this series, the story is told from the viewpoint of several characters rather than just a single hero: most of these are already familiar from earlier books, but we also follow the exploits of a contingent of Irish 'rebels' in equal measure. Bond's skill is to shift perspective between this relatively large cast without in the least disrupting the flow or disorientating the reader, effortlessly weaving these multiple elements into a slow-boiling narrative that informs and entertains in equal measure as tension builds.

Bond's mastery of story-building and characterization is matched by his authoritative handling of the complexities of shipboard life, a problem faced by all who write about sailing ships. Technical terms cannot be avoided, but Bond deftly steers a path through them, and should anyone be unsure, a useful glossary is appended to explain most of them.

The Patriot's Fate is an un-put-downable 'page turner' that should establish Alaric Bond as one of the best historic naval fiction writers currently active. It doesn't get much better than this! Highly recommended."

Originally published on Historic Naval Fiction

"Alaric Bond's wonderful new book, Cut and Run, the fourth in his Fighting Sail series, steps away from the Royal Navy and takes us onto the decks of a merchantman – a ship of the Honorable East India Company. The ships of the "John Company," as the HEIC was colloquially known, were the connective tissue of the empire, carrying trade goods and merchants outbound and bringing back the riches of the India and China to England. In a time of war, these ships were also a virtual treasure trove for enemy privateers.

In Cut and Run, Royal Navy Lieutenant Tom King finds himself on the beach, on half pay. The frigate, HMS Pandora, on which he served so valiantly in the Battle of Camperdown (see our review of True Colours) is being refit and her captain has gone ashore to consider a run for parliament. Lacking money and connections, Lt. King decides to take a position as an officer of the Pevensey Castle, a ship of the Honorable East India Company. He is joined by Robert Manning, a surgeon's mate from the Pandora, and his new wife Kate, who has arranged a position as purser's assistant on the Indiaman.

While the life on a merchant man proves to be quite different from that of a Royal Navy ship, neither the sea nor the politics of the day have fundamentally changed. Britain is still at war with France and money and influence still hold sway on land and sea. King and the Mannings are unhappy to realize that their new captain, Rogers, also served in the Royal Navy. King served with Rogers on HMS Vigilant where Rogers proved himself to be a dangerous and incompetent buffoon, who nevertheless happened to be from a wealthy and influential family. King is also not pleased to learn that Captain Rogers has given him the lowly rank of Midshipman.

King soon learns that while the Indiaman is about as large as a Royal Navy frigate, the Pevensey Castle sails like a barrel and is woefully under-gunned which will be an issue later in the book when the Indiaman must contend with French privateers.

What makes Cut and Run such an entertaining read is that it is sufficiently different from fiction focusing on the Royal Navy so that it feels fresh. At the same time, the characters and surroundings are similar enough, to make a fan of Georgian naval fiction feel quite at home.

As was the case in Bond's previous books, the characters are all engaging and well drawn. His books continue to reflect the viewpoints of sailors from all ranks and positions, rather than as the account of a single heroic sailor. In Cut and Run, Tom King is somewhat closer to this role than in Bond's previous books. Nevertheless, Bond's ships are still populated with wonderfully vivid and idiosyncratic characters; from an Irish volunteer steward to a Lascar bosun, to a bosun's mate who proves too enthusiastic in combat for his own health. I am particularly fond of a red haired sailor that we met in a previous book named Johnson or Simpson, depending on which ship he is on, who has a particular knack for deserting and keeps managing to avoid the hangman's noose.

Cut and Run is a delightfully entertaining read that gives us a look at the often overlooked Georgian merchant marine. Highly recommended."

Originally published on The Old Salt Blog

"Alaric Bond's new novel, True Colours, the third in his Fighting Sail series, is a fascinating and exciting look at a most perilous moment in British history. The novel begins in 1797. Britain is at war with the French and her Dutch allies. A French invasion force, supported by the formidable Dutch Navy is massing across the channel when the unthinkable occurs. The British fleet at Spithead mutinies. Not long after, the fleet at the Nore follows their example. The frigate Pandora returns from convoy duty after an attempted mutiny onboard, and only narrowly escapes being drawn into the Nore mutiny, as well.

The Pandora is dispatched to the North Sea fleet under the command of Admiral Duncan. It is, however, a fleet in name only. The great mutiny has stripped him of most of ships and so Duncan must pretend that his handful of ships is but the vanguard of a much larger fleet just over the horizon. If he can make the charade work, he may be able to buy enough time to gather together a fleet capable of defeating the Dutch and preventing an invasion.

There appears to be two divergent views of the Georgian navy. Most writers of nautical fiction portray the officers and the crew as Nelson did before Trafalgar, as a "band of brothers." Other writers suggest that the Royal Navy traditions are as Churchill suggested, "Rum, sodomy and the lash." (A fair case might be made for rum, anyway.)

What is intriguing about True Colours is that Bond demonstrates that the two views may be not necessarily be contradictory. The Royal Navy sailors were the best sailors and shipboard fighters in the world. They were also ill treated and taken advantage of by the Admiralty and the British Parliament. The demands of the mutineers were not unreasonable and a mutiny should never have been necessary. At the same time, a mutiny in time of war is supremely badly timed and the mutineers at the Nore did go too far. Overall Bond give us a nicely balance portrayal of the participants on both sides of the conflict.

Bond's portray of Admiral Adam Duncan is also fascinating. An under-appreciated character in naval history, Duncan's tactic of breaking the Dutch line, in the battle which would later be known as Camperdown at the climax of the book, precedes Nelson's much lauded tactics at Trafalgar, by eight years.

In addition to portraying intriguing history, the writing in True Colours is simply wonderful. As with the other two books of the series, Bond does not focus on the young captain or a single character but shifts gracefully through the points of view of the officers and men (and in one case, a woman,) from the gun deck, to the cockpit, to the wardroom. In the hands of a writer of lesser skill, these shifts of perspective might feel mechanical or confusing, but in True Colours and his previous books, Bond manages to make these shifts feel completely natural and almost organic. His ensemble of characters individually and collectively convey the setting and action so much more effectively than if limited to the viewpoint of one or two characters.

With True Colours, Alaric Bond unquestionably ranks with the best writers of nautical fiction. Highly recommended."

Originally published on The Old Salt Blog