Nautical Historical Fiction

We have not been keeping to our weekly blog schedule and the reason is the cold weather is limiting what we can get done. There just hasn’t been much to report. We needed some ideas for the blog. Well, having day jobs as a librarians means that Nina and I spend a lot of time thinking about books to read and to recommend. We’ve decided to include the occasional book column to provide some variety. Since this is a boating blog it is only natural to recommend some sailing adventures. Now is a great time to curl up in a chair and imagine the salt spray and the cannons roar. These books should help you to make it to spring. I hope you will enjoy some of them.

I am a fan of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series and Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, that means I like historical nautical fiction. Forester and O’Brian represent the two poles of this genre, (genre: a specific subcategory of fiction). While there were earlier naval fiction books dealing with life aboard naval ships and battles at sea, Forester defined the genre with the Horatio Hornblower books: they were action packed page turners that always turned out well for Hornblower. Maybe they were a bit shallow, but they were thrilling. Book one is Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. On the other hand there are the O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin books. They are slower paced, and literary. They have character development, science and and a sense of place as well as thrilling battles. Start with Master and Commander. Both of these series are great and they will give you hours of reading enjoyment. The real question is what to read next? Well, there are lots of other choices. I am going to start with the newest options first and work back.

Most of the nautical historical fiction books have been about English sailors in the Napoleonic Wars. One change in the recent books is they are about different times and navies. First books in the series are listed. Let’s start with J. D. Davies’ series The Journals of Mathew Quinton. In Gentleman Captain, (published in 2010), the time is 1662 and Charles the II is on the throne. Quinton’s first command sank out from under him and the king has given him a new ship to sail to Scotland to fight the rebels. Will he mend his reputation? If you like O’Brian, you should enjoy this series.

Richard Woodman’s Kit Faulkiner naval adventure is set even earlier, in 1618, during the English Civil War. Kit starts out as a 12 year old boy on a merchant ship. Lots of history and action beginning in A Ship for the King, 2011.

David Donachie’s John Pearce series is set in the familiar English navy fighting Napoleon, but John Pearce is a pressed sailor so you get another view of the navy in By the Mast Divided, 2005.

The Kydd Novels by Julian Stockwin follow the naval career of Thomas Paine Kydd, another pressed sailor. In the first book Kydd , he is a young wig-maker and he has been caught by a press gang and pressed into service as a ordinary seaman. He has to adjust to a completely new life as a sailor on a ship of the line. As you have guessed, if you read enough books, he eventually becomes the captain of his own ship. The setting is the Napoleonic Wars. The series is noted for doing a good job of depicting life aboard a ship in the English navy.

Alexander Kent writes the Richard Bolitho Stories. They stories are fast paced and action packed in the Hornblower mold. Bolitho comes from a naval family so he gets to start his career as a midshipman. The setting is the English Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The first book is Richard Bolitho, Midshipman.

Close to the same time, but the American Revolution is the setting for William Hammond’s Cutler Family Chronicles. Richard Cutler joins the American Navy to help fight the Revolutionary War. Book one is A Matter of Honor, 2007.

Another series set during the American Revolution is James Nelson’s Isaac Biddlecomb books. Biddlecomb is an American Colonial merchant sailor trying to smuggle goods past the English fleet. He ends up being swept up in the conflict against the English. By Force of Arms is the first book.

Finally, if you like your nautical fiction hero to have a bawdy life ashore then the Alan Lewrie Naval Adventures by Dewey Lambdin are for you. Lewrie gets sent to sea by his family because they want to get rid of him. To his surprise he not only survives, but he likes being in the navy. These books are full of action, both on land and on the sea. You will follow Lewrie from ship to ship and bed to bed. The one thing you can count on is the French won’t catch Lewrie sleeping. Start with The King’s Coat.

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