James Nelson,
Revolution at Sea #3: The Continental Risque
(Pocket, 1998)

As if the British aren't bad enough. Isaac Biddlecomb, newly commissioned a captain in the fledgling navy of the United Colonies, must suffer both the boorish conversation and petulant behavior of his new first officer, Lt. Roger Tottenhill, and the subversive, below-deck actions of cutthroat seaman Amos Hackett.

Although The Continental Risque, the third book in James L. Nelson's excellent Revolution at Sea saga, includes the first large-scale invasion by the American fleet against a British holding, this is probably the least exciting volume in the series so far. The problem isn't the level of adventure -- once it gets going -- or the further development of Nelson's intriguing cast. Rather, Risque unfolds far too slowly -- it's 140 pages in before they even make it to the ocean, although granted the several weeks the American fleet spent icebound in the Delaware River is a matter of the historic record.

Likewise, the long-awaited mutiny fomented by Hackett takes far too long to develop. As a subplot, it probably should have wrapped up midway through the book, but it doesn't have the gusto needed to continue on to the bloody end; we see it coming pretty early, thank you, so just get on with it! Also, Biddlecomb is too crafty a captain by far too allow the situation with Tottenhill carry on as long as it does ... and the lieutenant's sudden and complete change of heart near the end is a bit too abrupt for my taste.

Pacing aside, this is overall another exciting chapter in the rough birth of America's first navy and its bold actions against Britain's unquestionably superior sea power. Nelson, like Patrick O'Brian, C.S. Forester and a few others before him, has a genuine mastery of nautical fiction, and he blends his stories seamlessly into American history for a page-turning joyride at sea. In turns exciting, tense, a little comical and occasionally a little romantic, The Continental Risque has kept my interest piqued for the next book in the series.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

9 May 2009

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