A slack-sailed voyage into waters well charted by C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian.
When the captain of HMS Argonaut is blasted from his quarterdeck, Charles Edgemont is thrust into command. He entertains existential doubts over whether he’ll be able to stand up to Spanish shot, but Edgemont is not found wanting, even though “arms, legs, heads were ripped away or left dangling by thin strips of flesh” all around him. Now new troubles dog him; Edgemont worries about whether the pressures of command will make him as frigid and aloof as his unfortunate predecessor, and, later, flush with success, he worries about what to do with all the prize money (“He tried to calculate the one-quarter share that was the ship’s captain’s due in his head, couldn’t get it right exactly, but knew that it was a very large sum”). Debut novelist Worrall works the standard tropes of the fighting-men-and-tall-ships genre while bringing such postmodern, sensitive-leader matters into play, and if the prose is flat and the storyline predictable, Edgemont’s adventures on the high seas, now at a higher rank and astride different boards, are suitably action-packed to hold the reader’s interest. While having all those adventures, Edgemont finds new worries along with all the accomplishments and booty: Should he marry the Quaker girl down the lane? Should he indulge in the self-serving politics of the officer class? Resolutions ensue as our hero takes his well-fitted frigate out to sea and chases the blasted Spanish foe, wrestling with more immediate preoccupations (“He was beginning to worry that the Santa Brigada would refuse battle”) until he finally catches up with the enemy in a set-piece battle that ends with the promise of a sequel to come.
Aubrey and Hornblower need not worry; this newcomer won’t blow them out of the water. Still, Worrall acquits himself reasonably well, and those fond of cannon-splintered masts and grim-jawed captains won’t be disappointed.