William H. White,
The War of 1812 #2: A Fine Tops'l Breeze
(Tiller, 2001)

The War of 1812, which began in A Press of Canvas, continues in William H. White's second novel, A Fine Tops'l Breeze.

Isaac Biggs, a merchant sailor who was pressed aboard a British frigate just prior to the war's beginning, is now back in American service. But, rather than joining his mates from the Orpheus in the struggling American navy -- which finds itself blocked at every turn by British warships patrolling the coast -- Biggs joins a privateering crew out of Massachusetts. The privateers, often using smaller but faster vessels to harry English fleets, are proving much more adept at evading the coastal blockade.

While Biggs serves as third mate on the brig George Washington, his former shipmates run into a string of bad luck, first landlocked on the USS Constellation, then crewing a disastrous voyage on USS Chesapeake -- a ship that had rightly earned its reputation for bad luck. Their paths will cross again by book's end in a blend of historical realism and author's imagination.

This novel is in many ways superior to the first book in the 1812 trilogy. Weaknesses include White's penchant for repeating himself -- both by recounting plot points in dialogue shortly after the action occurs and by reintroducing major characters every time they wander onto the page -- as well as his overuse of certain phrases and his habit of providing exposition through awkwardly timed conversations. Overall, however, Tops'l Breeze is another excellent entry into the field of American naval fiction.

Fans of the genre will no doubt have read countless books on Britain's conflict with France, but few authors give equal attention to the Age of Sail in America. It's gratifying to see that White has the period well in hand, and we can only hope he joins author James Nelson and others in keeping the genre fresh and exciting for years to come.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

6 March 2010

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