James Nelson,
Revolution at Sea #1: By Force of Arms
(Corgi, 1996)

Isaac Biddlecomb didn't set out to revolt against the English crown.

Isaac was content to make his living flouting the British tax laws by smuggling goods between the Caribbean and his home colony of Rhode Island. But when a British warship intercepts his ship and Isaac is forced to ground her to avoid capture, he soon finds himself on the run from forces who would really prefer he pay his taxes like a good English subject.

To avoid prison -- or, more likely, a seaside hanging -- Captain Biddlecomb takes a ship for Jamaica posing as a lowly sailor. He finds his situation going from bad to worse, however, in a voyage that will see him on more than one ship and at very different stations on board. His cunning, as well as his natural-born instincts at sea, will be put to the test to see him home to Rhode Island unharmed. However, fans of nautical adventurers such as Aubrey and Hornblower will note that Biddlecomb is no rugged hero who stands unflinching in the face of a cannon; he's a simple merchant captain who is thrust unwilling into great events.

Set just before the start of the American Revolution, By Force of Arms is the first in a five-book saga that follows Biddlecomb through the course of the war. James Nelson -- who has already proven himself to me with The Brethren of the Coast, a trilogy set in and off the coast of Virginia a century earlier -- writes a lively seafaring yarn that kept me entertained from start to finish and had me lined up for the next book in the series. This book is packed with action but a little scanty on character development; I look forward to getting to know Biddlecomb and his compatriots better soon.

review by
Tom Knapp

11 April 2009

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