The Power and the Glory is the third book in American author William C. Hammond’s nautical fiction series about Lt. Richard Cutler and the Cutler family of Hingham, Massachusetts. The first two books, A Matter of Honor and For Love of Country, were very interesting. They covered the period of the American Revolution.
This third novel in the series is set in the late 1790s during what is known as the Quasi-War with France, which lasted from 1788 to 1790. A number of well-known historical figures feature in the book, such as Captains Thomas Truxtun and Silas Talbot. The same goes for several of the ships in the novel, for instance USS Constellation (see her fighting L’Insurgente below), USS Constitution, L’Insurgente and La Vengeance.
Hammond does an excellent job of fictionalizing events of these important formative years in the history of the US Navy during this period of the Age of Sail. I quite enjoyed his insightful discussions of how the design of the new class of American frigates built in the 1790s differed from English frigates and how that affected the handling of the ships. His interesting take on some of the historical characters involved also piqued my interest.
The Power and the Glory (this is, coincidentally, also the title of a novel by Graham Greene) tells a very interesting tale of the rise of Lt Richard Cutler and the many events which he was involved in during this period, from family business to negotiations regarding the slave revolt in the French colony of Saint-Dominique, to epic sea battles. The climactic battle takes place in 1880, between the U.S.S. Constellation and the big French frigate La Vengeance. It is very well described by Hammond.
All in all, The Power and the Glory is, to my mind, the best book in the series so far. William C. Hammond has an excellent ability to use real events, conditions, and people in creating compelling settings for his tale. In this he is as good as C.F. Forester. However, the series about Richard Cutler still falls a little short of Forester’s series about Horatio Hornblower because Richard Cutler, despite being interesting and likeable, remains a little distant and aloof. He is perhaps too perfect. Where Hornblower was bothered by a lack of self-esteem that made you sympathize with him because he was too hard on himself and O’Brian’s Captain Aubrey had some flaws in his personality that made him always get into financial trouble and difficult amorous relations, Cutler has no flaws and no serious problems. He doesn’t need the sympathy of the reader. So then, I think, he doesn’t get much sympathy either.
The Power and the Glory can be read as a freestanding novel – it stands well on its own. It is a great tale, one that I recommend to all who love good historical fiction and are drawn to the grand and romantic tales of the struggle for power on the high seas in the Age of Sail.