Book Reviews

Some of the reviews by people who have read my novels:

"Alaric Bond's wonderful new book, Cut and Run, the fourth in his Fighting Sail series, steps away from the Royal Navy and takes us onto the decks of a merchantman – a ship of the Honorable East India Company. The ships of the "John Company," as the HEIC was colloquially known, were the connective tissue of the empire, carrying trade goods and merchants outbound and bringing back the riches of the India and China to England. In a time of war, these ships were also a virtual treasure trove for enemy privateers.

In Cut and Run, Royal Navy Lieutenant Tom King finds himself on the beach, on half pay. The frigate, HMS Pandora, on which he served so valiantly in the Battle of Camperdown (see our review of True Colours) is being refit and her captain has gone ashore to consider a run for parliament. Lacking money and connections, Lt. King decides to take a position as an officer of the Pevensey Castle, a ship of the Honorable East India Company. He is joined by Robert Manning, a surgeon's mate from the Pandora, and his new wife Kate, who has arranged a position as purser's assistant on the Indiaman.

While the life on a merchant man proves to be quite different from that of a Royal Navy ship, neither the sea nor the politics of the day have fundamentally changed. Britain is still at war with France and money and influence still hold sway on land and sea. King and the Mannings are unhappy to realize that their new captain, Rogers, also served in the Royal Navy. King served with Rogers on HMS Vigilant where Rogers proved himself to be a dangerous and incompetent buffoon, who nevertheless happened to be from a wealthy and influential family. King is also not pleased to learn that Captain Rogers has given him the lowly rank of Midshipman.

King soon learns that while the Indiaman is about as large as a Royal Navy frigate, the Pevensey Castle sails like a barrel and is woefully under-gunned which will be an issue later in the book when the Indiaman must contend with French privateers.

What makes Cut and Run such an entertaining read is that it is sufficiently different from fiction focusing on the Royal Navy so that it feels fresh. At the same time, the characters and surroundings are similar enough, to make a fan of Georgian naval fiction feel quite at home.

As was the case in Bond's previous books, the characters are all engaging and well drawn. His books continue to reflect the viewpoints of sailors from all ranks and positions, rather than as the account of a single heroic sailor. In Cut and Run, Tom King is somewhat closer to this role than in Bond's previous books. Nevertheless, Bond's ships are still populated with wonderfully vivid and idiosyncratic characters; from an Irish volunteer steward to a Lascar bosun, to a bosun's mate who proves too enthusiastic in combat for his own health. I am particularly fond of a red haired sailor that we met in a previous book named Johnson or Simpson, depending on which ship he is on, who has a particular knack for deserting and keeps managing to avoid the hangman's noose.

Cut and Run is a delightfully entertaining read that gives us a look at the often overlooked Georgian merchant marine. Highly recommended."

Originally published on The Old Salt Blog

"Alaric Bond's new novel, True Colours, the third in his Fighting Sail series, is a fascinating and exciting look at a most perilous moment in British history. The novel begins in 1797. Britain is at war with the French and her Dutch allies. A French invasion force, supported by the formidable Dutch Navy is massing across the channel when the unthinkable occurs. The British fleet at Spithead mutinies. Not long after, the fleet at the Nore follows their example. The frigate Pandora returns from convoy duty after an attempted mutiny onboard, and only narrowly escapes being drawn into the Nore mutiny, as well.

The Pandora is dispatched to the North Sea fleet under the command of Admiral Duncan. It is, however, a fleet in name only. The great mutiny has stripped him of most of ships and so Duncan must pretend that his handful of ships is but the vanguard of a much larger fleet just over the horizon. If he can make the charade work, he may be able to buy enough time to gather together a fleet capable of defeating the Dutch and preventing an invasion.

There appears to be two divergent views of the Georgian navy. Most writers of nautical fiction portray the officers and the crew as Nelson did before Trafalgar, as a "band of brothers." Other writers suggest that the Royal Navy traditions are as Churchill suggested, "Rum, sodomy and the lash." (A fair case might be made for rum, anyway.)

What is intriguing about True Colours is that Bond demonstrates that the two views may be not necessarily be contradictory. The Royal Navy sailors were the best sailors and shipboard fighters in the world. They were also ill treated and taken advantage of by the Admiralty and the British Parliament. The demands of the mutineers were not unreasonable and a mutiny should never have been necessary. At the same time, a mutiny in time of war is supremely badly timed and the mutineers at the Nore did go too far. Overall Bond give us a nicely balance portrayal of the participants on both sides of the conflict.

Bond's portray of Admiral Adam Duncan is also fascinating. An under-appreciated character in naval history, Duncan's tactic of breaking the Dutch line, in the battle which would later be known as Camperdown at the climax of the book, precedes Nelson's much lauded tactics at Trafalgar, by eight years.

In addition to portraying intriguing history, the writing in True Colours is simply wonderful. As with the other two books of the series, Bond does not focus on the young captain or a single character but shifts gracefully through the points of view of the officers and men (and in one case, a woman,) from the gun deck, to the cockpit, to the wardroom. In the hands of a writer of lesser skill, these shifts of perspective might feel mechanical or confusing, but in True Colours and his previous books, Bond manages to make these shifts feel completely natural and almost organic. His ensemble of characters individually and collectively convey the setting and action so much more effectively than if limited to the viewpoint of one or two characters.

With True Colours, Alaric Bond unquestionably ranks with the best writers of nautical fiction. Highly recommended."

Originally published on The Old Salt Blog

"With its multiple points of view and loving attention to detail, Alaric Bond's new seafaring novel reads very much like one of those British morale-boosting films from World War II. We have the honorable but remote captain, the severe but capable first lieutenant, the green kid still learning the ropes, and a huge cast of supporting characters. A scene of the gunner and his mates preparing for battle down in the magazine is a model of craftsmanship, and the engagement that fills the second half of the book, with its maneuvers, stratagems, and final, awesome slugfest, contains some of the most absorbing Georgian naval combat in years."

Originally published on

"Whereas most nautical adventure fiction follows the same general format - tracking the exploits of a young ship's officer, Alaric Bond takes a refreshingly different tack. His latest novel, His Majesty's Ship does not focus on a single hero but follows multiple officers and crew of the 64 gun HMS Vigilant. His range of characters and his use of multiple points of view makes the novel feel fresh, original, and competely authentic. It makes for a very fun read.

Bond's use of multiple points of view solves several inherent problems in writing about the Georgian Navy. One of my complaints with several of the authors currently writing is that their novels tend to be highly episodic. There is the need to find something interesting for the protagonist to do to hold the reader's interest. In Bond's His Majesty's Ship, the officers, crew and to a large extent the ship itself provide the action. The shifting points of view capture the constant bustle of life aboard the HMS Vigilant; from Matthew, the young volunteer, who is literally learning the ropes; to the friction in the wardroom between Lt. Rogers, a mediocre officer born of wealth and influence, and his less affluent fellow officers; to the challenges faced by Captain Shepard, who must mold his highly mixed crew into some sort of coherent team capable of surviving Atlantic storms as well as the French.

What is remarkable is that Bond pulls this off so gracefully. His characters start as vivid cameos who grow into well rounded individuals as the book progresses. These multiple points of view allow Bond to to develop a nuanced portrait of the complex social and political order aboard ship. Writers have often portrayed ships in the age of sail as one of two stereotypes. Jack Aubrey's ships are invariably a "band of brothers" while Melville's Whitejacket leans more toward "sodomy, rum, and the lash." Bond's HMS Vigilant is a wonderful mix from across the spectrum.

There are indeed Jolly Jack Tars, happy to be sailors; right alongside pressed men, angry with their fate; as well as Irishmen, caught by the press, who would be more than happy to bring their own rebellion against the crown in action aboard ship. Ambitious young lieutenants rub elbows with wizened petty officers. We see desertion, flogging, and attempted murder, as well as loyalty, courage, valor and wit. Rather than a single perspective, Bond's HMS Vigilant is a tapestry of both the competing and cooperative aspirations of the various and varied officers and crew.

Bond's writing flows easily. It is well crafted and stylish without calling undue attention to itself. I felt completely drawn into the book, into the ship itself, from the cramped and airless gundeck to dizzying heights of the cross-trees. I found myself reading slowly, because I was so enjoying the language, the characters and the real sense of being aboard Bond's HMS Vigilant.

I highly recommend Alaric Bond's His Majesty's Ship."

Originally published on The Old Salt Blog

"In his new novel His Majesty's Ship Alaric Bond once again grips readers with his detailed knowledge of the Georgian navy. In this prequel to The Jackass Frigate the earlier careers of crew members we have become familiar with are developed. From gundeck to quarterdeck, from powder monkey to Captain, we follow all divisions of the crew of HMS Vigilant, a 64 gun ship-of-the-line, as she is got ready for sea and then escorts a convoy. Ending in a climactic battle, the book, first in the 'Fighting Sail' series, fulfils the authors promise to "give an insight into the world of the seamen and naval officers who fought during the Revolutionary war" and will delight all readers of historic naval fiction."

Originally published on Historic Naval Fiction

"Alaric Bond's Jackass Frigate is comfortable and familiar while managing to be fresh and distinctive at the same time, not an easy trick to pull off. More than anything else, it is simply fun to read. I picked it up and literally had a hard time putting it down. While that may be a cliché, in my case, it was indeed true.

Virtually every work of naval fiction since Marryatt has followed a young officer; whether as midshipman, lieutenant, captain or admiral. Jackass Frigate is different. Bond uses a wide range of characters and perspectives from the gun deck, to the cockpit, to the quarterdeck. Eighteenth century men-of-war were the most complex, technologically advanced machines of their day, requiring a wide range of skills and abilities to function It took far more than the officers on the quarterdeck to sail and to fight. Jackass Frigate gives the reader a glimpse at the ship in action, from top to bottom.

Bond gives voice to topmen, gunners, surgeon's mates, landsmen and idlers, as well as to the midshipmen, lieutenants, the master and, of course, the captain. The danger to this approach is that the voices can become jumbled, which to Bond's credit somehow doesn't happen. He has the enviable skill of making each sufficiently distinctive to stand out while under way or in the heat of battle. The shift between the various voices and perspectives is remarkably smooth and seamless.

Jackass Frigate follows the newly fitted out HMS Pandora from her maiden voyage to join the Mediterranean fleet in 1796 to the battle of Cape St. Vincent. Along the way, the captain and crew they find themselves surrounded by a French fleet, the First Lieutenant is murdered, rumors spread of a specter aboard ship, and they must fight in desperate single ship combat and assist in a brutal fleet battle. We also rub elbows with Admiral Jarvis and a young Commodore Nelson.

Lively, fast paced, and cinematic in scope, Jackass Frigate is a truly entertaining read."

Originally published on The Old Salt Blog