V.A. Stuart,
Phillip Hazard #2: The Brave Captains
(Robert Hale, 1968; McBooks, 2003)

The Brave Captains takes British naval commander away from his beloved ship Trojan and places him in the thick of things at Balaclava during the Crimean War.

Unfortunately, this literary stratagem removes our protagonist from a place of action and plops him down as an observer in a largely land-based military operation. As such, The Brave Captains lacks some of the excitement of the first book in the series, The Valiant Sailors, because it's always more thrilling to have your main character doing, not simply seeing.

There are also a few questionable choices in the text. Author V.A. Stuart gives Phillip Hazard a good vantage point to witness the heroic and successful charge of the heavy cavalry against a superior Russian force, as well as the shame of the light brigade, which did nothing in that action. Stuart then yanks the reader out of the narrative with a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing, as Hazard discusses the event with an aide-de-camp:

"The poor Light Cavalry!" He sighed, displaying a keenly felt regret he made no attempt to hide. "The whole of this campaign has been nothing but frustration for them, I fear, through no fault of their own, Mr. Hazard. They are the cream of the British army but..." He shook his head despondently and then forced a smile. "Perhaps their hour may yet come and they will be given a chance to wipe out the memory of this last humiliation, at least."

"Let us hope that it may," Phillip agreed, little knowing how soon that hour was to come for the Light Brigade or with what tragic finality the humiliation was to be erased from the memory of all who were to witness it.

In case that wasn't enough to warn readers that the infamous charge of the light brigade was coming, Stuart waits a page, then adds:

The end of the Battle of Balaclava was approaching and with it the disastrous charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade, which -- although it was to result in failure and a hideous loss of life -- was nevertheless to eclipse, in the hearts and memories of the British people, the brilliantly successful charge made earlier by the Heavy Brigade.

I don't enjoy this type of literary conceit. Show us the action, don't just tell us it's coming! Then, to make matters worse, Stuart removes Hazard from the scene so he doesn't even get to see this final, dramatic act. Instead, she simply has another character tell Hazard about it later.

Let down!

The Brave Captains is a far weaker book than its predecessor, and it seems in many ways simply a bridge from the events of the first book to the one that follows. Hazard has met certain characters and has been shuffled around on the board enough to be ready for new adventures in Hazard's Command, which I hope will keep our naval man primarily at sea and in the heart of the story, rather than sitting it out on the sidelines.

book review by
Tom Knapp

31 December 2011

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