James L. Nelson,
Brethren of the Coast #1: The Guardship
(Post Road, 2000; Perennial, 2002)

Thomas Marlowe is a relatively new arrival in colonial Virginia, but he is already doing well on his tobacco plantation -- on which he raised quite a few eyebrows by freeing his slaves -- and cutting quite a swath among the social elite of Williamsburg. But a twist of fate gives him the opportunity to take his fortunes to sea as commander of the guardship that patrols the coast, its rivers and bays to protect landbound colonists and seafaring merchant vessels from the pirates that plague the region.

But Marlowe isn't everything he appears to be, and the twist of fate that engineered his rise to prominence might not have been quite as happenstance as it appeared. There's no questioning he's good at the job, though, and he demonstrates his abilities from the very beginning when he's assigned to take command -- by force, if necessary -- from the previous guardship captain who is unwilling to relinquish the post.

Set in 1701, The Guardship is a thrilling adventure on land and sea. Not only is a feared pirate captain targeting Virginia's tobacco fleet, but the wealthiest family in Williamsburg has a grudge against Marlowe that could easily spell his ruin. It might seem like a bad time for romance, but the widow Tinling is truly too beautiful to resist.

James L. Nelson has penned an exciting, richly developed story that bursts with adventure while still leaving ample time for developing living, breathing, three-dimensional characters. Nelson obviously has an extensive knowledge of ships, nautical customs and battles at sea, but he doesn't forget that plenty of action takes place on land, too.

This book takes its place among my favorite maritime novels. It will appeal to anyone who enjoys the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian.

The Guardship begins Nelson's Brethren of the Coast saga, but it stands entirely alone for those who don't want to commit to a series, sight unseen. Me, I can't wait to dig into the next one!

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

29 March 2008

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