V.A. Stuart,
Hazard's Command
(Robert Hale, 1971; McBooks, 2004)

Hazard's Command is without question superior to its predecessor, The Brave Captains. While Captains put the eponymous Phillip Hazard on the sidelines as an observer during the Crimean War, Command places him back aboard his beloved steam-screw frigate Trojan. But, while the acting captain plays a more hands-on role this time around, he still tends to be more reactive than active.

Author V.A. Stuart gives us some thrilling text, including a tense rescue at sea and some nail-biting action against the Cossacks. For all that Hazard is a naval hero, though, Stuart continues to focus more on land-based military movements ... and she continues to avoid discussion of the growing role of steam in naval maneuvers. It's a real missed opportunity.

By the time I finished reading Command, I realized I'd enjoyed the book but couldn't say why. Neither the characters nor the plot are compelling enough to carry a novel, much less a series.

One failing here is that it reprises the first book in the series, The Valiant Sailors, by focusing so heavily on a cruel and overbearing military commander. While the circumstances are different -- Sailors gave us the mean-spirited Captain North, Hazard's erstwhile superior officer, while Command gives us the mean-spirited Captain Durbanville, an army officer whose troops are shipped aboard the Trojan -- the setting and tone are largely the same.

Also, Stuart seems at times unsure how to describe major events. In Captains, for instance, she removed Hazard from the scene just before the fatal charge of the Light Brigade, relieving herself of the need to thoroughly describe it. Here, for instance, she has an admiral tell Hazard of bringing two ships into port during a vicious storm.

"By some miracle, we both entered safely but I should not like to try it again as long as I live!" He went into graphic and horrifying detail and then continued, "We lost the Prince and the Resolute...."

Wow, I'm sure glad she didn't share any of that "graphic and horrifying detail" with us poor, sensitive readers! If she had, why, we might have had a clearer understanding of what it meant to pilot a ship in a storm!

In another instance, Stuart opted to kill off a major character who has been with us through all three books in the series. Instead of developing the plot twist thoroughly, she sent the character off as an afterthought, to engage in some meaningless side action with, again, no detail provided for the readers. Then she reports back to us that no one was injured except, of course, for this one guy who is dying but will, assuredly, linger long enough for some dramatic final words with our hero.


book review by
Tom Knapp

28 January 2012

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