Recovering from war wounds at his home in Scotland, British naval hero Capt. Bowman West is offered a promotion as commodore of a flotilla. He declines, however, and instead accepts a mission to the South China Sea to search for the fabled Blue Isles in a new ship, the Promise. But there’s a condition: two members of the British East India Company must accompany him on the voyage—a man named Francis Gilbraith and his older secretary, Nile Carrin. West also has a Chinese steward, Chang, who uses broken pidgin to hide his fluent, educated English from others. The voyage that follows is full of incidents and intrigue. An encounter with an English pirate, Clarion, on St. Helena leads to Gilbraith’s mysterious death. Who killed him? West suspects Carrin but continues the mission. In East Africa, West acquires two okapis as a gift for the king of the Blue Isles. At a stop at Madras, he’s captivated by Violet Taylor, the daughter of the admiral stationed there. After entering the Straits of Malacca, which is riven with pirates, West is led to safety by another displaced Scotsman named Ardshiel. A typhoon washes West overboard but he’s soon reunited with the Promise in the Blue Isles. However, Clarion has followed them and a duel ensues to see who will claim the Pearl of Long Ages. Fasolino delivers a largely well-crafted tale of high-seas adventure. The characters are vivid and the action is not only relentless but also believable. That said, more nautical detail would have better conveyed everyday life aboard an 18th century frigate. There’s some repetitive phrasing early on (such as “But there were times…” and “But there were moments…” in the same paragraph) and some unnecessary occasional foreshadowing. The romantic elements are underdeveloped, and that along with the somewhat anticlimactic conclusion make it seem as if the author is setting up a sequel. This would be welcome, even if some elements of this volume could have been handled better.
A promising debut in the footsteps of Patrick O’Brian and C.S Forester, but one that still has a long way to go.