The year is 1795. England is at war with the revolutionary French Republic. The French fleet is under blockade in several French harbors, prevented from running to sea by the might of the Royal Navy.
His Majesty’s Ship – the one the title of this book refers to— the powerful but relatively small 64 gun ship-of-the-line HMS Vigilant. Her mission is convoy duty; boring, perhaps, but still an essential role– protection of the mercantile navy is vitally important to the British. When the story begins, HMS Vigilant is preparing to leave Spithead as a senior convoy escort.
However, as it turns out, this time the convoy duty will not be boring and trivial: a small but powerful group of French ships has managed to avoid the blockade and slip to sea. Now they have their sights set on the British convoy.
His Majesty’s Ship is the first book I’ve read by Alaric Bond, and the first navy fiction novel by Mr. Bond as. It’s the first installment in Bond’s Fighting Sail series.
In this book, Alaric Bond describes life on board HMS Vigilant from the points of view of several of the ship’s crew members – a nice cross-section all the way from the Captain down to the most recently joined of the ship’s young boys. Daily routines, events occurring, conflicts, and friction among the people aboard, as well as naval battle, are all reported in this manner. It is all here: young smart lieutenants and wizened petty officers, desertion, flogging, attempted murder, along with the good stuff: loyalty, teamwork, courage, valor, and wit.
Using this style is quite demanding – it could easily result in the telling of the main tale getting too fragmented and the reader losing interest. But Alaric Bond is an excellent storyteller, and he not only manages to pull it off, he really excels using this style.
I love reading salty tales from the Age of Sail when they are filled with characters that seem to be real, intelligent, thinking people, when the descriptions are rich enough to make me almost hear the sounds of the sea and the rigging, and when the action is interesting. Along all these dimensions, and more, His Majesty’s Ship is an excellent historical fiction novel.
The tough story of seamanship, teamwork, and bravery in His Majesty’s Ship is very well told, the descriptions of life below decks as engaging and intriguing as the ones from above decks. It is a creatively composed, evocative, swiftly flowing tale that is engaging to read, and that had me finish the book in four sittings – almost a page-turner. And, of course, highly recommended! An excellent job by Alaric Bond. I wonder why I didn’t read this one a long time ago. Oh well – I will move my sights forward toward the next one in the series instead.