This is the fourth book in Hammond’s historical navy fiction series about Richard Cutler and the Cutler family. In A Call to Arms we meet the newly minted US Navy Captain Richard Cutler, now in command of his own fast and powerful frigate, USS Portsmouth.
The series has broadened its scope gradually, and in this book the next generation is given more attention than in any of the earlier books in the series. Indeed, Richard’s son James shares the center stage with his father. James now has grown up and serves as a Midshipman about USS Constitution, which is under the command of Commodore Edward Preble.
The action in focus in this novel is the so-called First Barbary War (1801–1805). It’s a very strange war, taking place in the Mediterranean – at the time very far away from the United States. Strange also because there actually was a second Barbary war ten years later in 1815. These were wars waged against pirates operating out of Tripoli and Algiers, which were quasi-independent states in the Ottoman Empire.
In A Call to Arms, William C. Hammond more than before adopts a limited omniscient point of view, and describes the events taking place both at home in Hingham, Massachusetts, and down in the Mediterranean during the Barbary War from several points of view. He also moves a little closer to his characters. So now we see more of the emotions inside the otherwise quite serene and very successful Richard Cutler. We feel his pain and anger, we observe his frustration and understand his anxieties concerning his son James. This, in my opinion, adds depth to the story.
I can not claim to be an expert on the Barbary War(s), so all I can say about is that it seems to be a very well researched book that is about as historically accurate as you can be while still writing entertaining and engaging fiction. For this is fiction, and it is entertaining and even at times relatively suspenseful. In A Call to Arms you will find the highlights of the war, such as Stephen Decatur’s heroic destruction of the USS Philadelphia – a well known navy hero tale; one which here it is told in a most engaging manner. You will also read about how American diplomacy led to a sad and perhaps even shameful withdrawal from a town captured with heroism and blood which left the civilian population – including the people who had been allies of the US – to harsh treatment by the oppressors they thought they had rid themselves of.
A Call to Arms tells a grand and very interesting tale of heroism, foolishness, political maneuverings and perhaps even megalomania in one of the first major engagements of the US Navy outside the Americas. It seems to be quite open and honest. This early period of the US Navy, so far mostly neglected, seems to be much more interesting than I thought. It is an intriguing tale, taller-than-life and very well told by William C. Hammond who, in my opinion, is improving noticeably from book to book. This is a series to follow for lovers of navy fiction!