Seth Hunter,
The Time of Terror
(Headline, 2008; McBooks, 2010)

"Peake is entrusted with a mission to wreck the French economy by smuggling fake currency into Paris."
- from the back cover of Seth Hunter's The Time of Terror

Who wrote the teaser for this book? And did that person read the book or simply work with a plot summary provided by the author or editor? I ask because the involvement of Lt. Nathan Peake, British naval officer, in a secret operation to wreck the French economy isn't revealed until the 365th page of a 434-page novel. It is, in fact, quite a shock to Peake, who thought all along he was smuggling tobacco. So thanks, anonymous copywriter, for spoiling the surprise.

That little hitch aside, The Time of Terror is an exciting beginning to a series by Seth Hunter (a.k.a. Paul Bryers, a somewhat prolific British author) that takes place during the bloody first days of the French Revolution, shortly after the execution of France's king and queen.

It seems at first glance to be a nautical yarn in the tradition of Forester and O'Brian, but relatively little of the action takes place at sea. Peake begins the book chasing smugglers off the British coast and, when he follows a fleeing lugger all the way to France, is party to one of the first shots of the latest French and English war. Soon, Peake, posing as an American merchant captain, is given command of an American barque transporting tobacco (OK, it's really counterfeit currency) and finds himself shoulder-deep in French political mayhem.

With the exception of the opening sequence and one well-choreographed battle scene late in the story -- the Glorious First of June, led by British Admiral Lord Richard Howe and French Vice-Admiral Louis Thomas Villaret de Joyeuse, in a mighty clash some 400 miles west of Ushant -- most of Peake's action takes place on dry land, in France. There, he interacts with some historical movers and shakers of the day, from global revolutionist Thomas Paine and American agent Gilbert Imlay to English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and opposing French leaders Georges Danton and Maximilien de Robespierre. There's also Sara Seton, the beautiful young widow of a French aristocrat and subject of a romantic subplot that offers quite a few twists along the way.

Hunter's novel does an excellent job evoking the street-level terror that accompanied the French Revolution -- the mob violence, the volatile leadership and the steady chop of the guillotine -- and his land-based scenes are far more richly painted than the naval action. Peake himself is a little unusual as an action hero: his plans don't always come to fruition, and he's often simply swept along in the course of events around him. Still, he usually manages to land on his feet, and I believe the conclusion of this novel sets the stage for an exciting sequel featuring a wiser, more mature protagonist.

I look forward to reading it.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

22 May 2010

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