A certain earthiness--in dialogue and detail--is the only distinguishing feature of this debut outing for Lieutenant Matthew Lamb of the 1798 British Navy: his captain's a drunk, the seamen (often mutinous) are more foul than folsky (""Fuck off, froggy!""), there are below-decks accusations of sodomy, flatulence is a major source of humor, etc. Otherwise, however, things are standard, and loosely episodic, as 19-year-old Lamb, after years as a midshipman, takes up his first officer appointment--as ""fourth"" on the H.M.S. Sturdy. The ship's first significant stop is Portugal, where Lamb goes ashore to deliver gold to anti-French Portuguese guerrillas. Then it's on to the new British naval base near Cape Town, where drinking games are the major action; next, the long voyage to India, with a battle against a French frigate en route; thereafter, the Sturdy spends most of its time patrolling the Indian Ocean, protecting merchant ships from privateers. And finally, after Lamb euphorically loses his virginity in a Madras brothel, there's another skirmish with the French, this one involving some one-on-one swordplay. (""'Got yet, you bastard!' grunted the coxswain happily as he slashed his cutlass back-handed across the pike-man's throat."") Weaker than the top-mast British Navy series in character, plot, and history--but reasonably seaworthy entertainment for those partial to lower-deck grit and poop-deck gore.