S. Thomas Russell,
Take, Burn or Destroy
(Putnam, 2013)

When S. Thomas Russell describes the play of wind and water on the sails, you can feel the deck shift beneath your feet.

Take, Burn or Destroy, the third book in Russell's Charles Hayden series, is dominated by an action off the coast of France. Hayden's ship Themis has news it must carry home to England, but foul wind and weather, although with an increasing number of French frigates, conjoin to prevent him from sailing in that direction.

It's a tense sequence that goes on and on but never becomes less thrilling, as Hayden and his men throw dice with the sky to try and bring their ship home. Russell's knowledge of the effect of weather and tide on the movement of ships -- and what maneuvers are even possible in an unfriendly sea, with enemy vessels further limiting one's options -- makes for white-knuckle reading throughout.

There's much more here, too. There's a heart-breaking shipwreck that throws men of opposing sides together in an effort to survive. There's the Glorious First of June, a fictionalized but no less dramatic account of that mighty sea battle in 1794 under British Admiral Lord Richard Howe, in which Hayden's ship Raissonnable plays a vital part.

There's also a bit of pre-Regency romance, as Hayden fights a battle of the heart for his lady, Henrietta, who in the previous book was given to believe he had married a French woman and abandoned her. This -- and other factors, not to be revealed here -- gives another suitor ample room to plead his case for Henrietta's heart.

It works because Russell is a master of character development, and readers are along for the ride whether Hayden is on the quarterdeck during a broadside-to-broadside duel at sea or is in the parlor of his lady's family. There is ample humor here, too -- many of Hayden's shipmates, as well as Henrietta's kith and kin, would be huge fun at any party you'd care to invite them to.

But it's at sea where Russell's talents truly shine. The man knows ships -- he's not just setting his novel at sea for fun's sake. I had forgotten how much I liked the first two books in this series and I thoroughly enjoyed this one; now, I am eagerly looking forward to the fourth.

Note: This book was first published in England as A Ship of War.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Tom Knapp

20 July 2013

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new