Fresh from his Battle of Britain RAF trilogy, Hough now launches an equally jaunty, less soap-operatic Upstairs/Downstairs naval trilogy set in the late-Victorian era. In the late 1870s, 14-year-old welder's son Rod Maclewin joins the Royal Navy to escape poverty: bis training ship Eurydice is capsized near Spit-head by a snow squall (with only three survivors); he sees foreign service and gets his gunnery rating; he's befriended by Commander Lord Charles Beresford, who has him transferred to be coxswain on Beresford's gunvessel Condor; and Rod winds up in Alexandria, just in time for riots and the bombarding of Marabout Fort. Meanwhile, Hough also presents an ""upstairs"" naval career-in-the-making: Archie Buller, son of the Third Sea Lord, serves with Victoria's grandsons, takes a world cruise, and is assigned to Egyptian midshipman duty aboard the giant Inflexible. So, both blooded by battle, Archie and Rod meet and begin a lasting friendship in a beleaguered railway station in Alexandria. (Rod commandeers a locomotive and runs it by the enemy while Archie weaves destruction with a Gatling gun.) But at the close of the bombardment Rod is shot by bullying shipmate Masters (who'll later commit murder and be hung), whereas Archie gets engaged to Clemmie Huntley. Thus, Rod and Archie won't meet again for ten years--when again they'll fight side by side, against the Boers; and by the time of the Queen's funeral they'll be married men, Lieutenant Buller and Warrant Officer Maclewin. Solid entertainment for fans of period naval-action; a good start to a promising series.