Alexander Kent,
In Gallant Company
(Hutchinson, 1977; McBooks, 1998)

It's almost impossible to understate the bloody mayhem that might occur among the crew of a wooden sailing ship in battle.

Alexander Kent (nee Douglas Reeman) paints a stark picture in In Gallant Company, which continues the adventures of British Navy Lt. Richard Bolitho. It's 1777, and Bolitho is fourth lieutenant (among six) on HMS Trojan, a ship of the line stationed off the North American coast during the American Revolution.

Even the most casual historian will know England isn't destined to win this one, but the period itself is an interesting one. Most American students learn some details of George Washington's land campaign against the Redcoats, but the naval aspect of the war is frequently overlooked. That's a shame, as Britain's mighty navy was forced to strive against America's tiny fledgling fleet as well as privateers, blockade runners and the constant threat of French involvement.

There are failures and successes here, and Kent produces sea battles that are equally thrilling and devastating. Blood runs thick from the scuppers when cannonballs start to fly, and favorite characters aren't always safe in the crossfire.

Bolitho himself is well-developed, a young officer who advances in rank through his own initiative as well as various misfortunes among his superiors. Supporting characters -- both on the quarterdeck and among the crew -- are also fleshed out admirably.

Although third in the chronological series of novels as reissued by McBooks, it's important to note these books weren't written in chronological order. As such, In Gallant Company strives to introduce its protagonist to readers in clear terms, and certainly you come to know this young British officer very well by the final page. It makes me want to know more of his story right away ... and since the next book in the series is waiting upstairs, I think I'll go do that now.

Kent is no O'Brian or Forester, but he stands proudly in the second rank of nautical fiction authors. I plan to continue with this series.

book review by
Tom Knapp

1 September 2012

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