Age of Sail / Book Review / David Donachie / John Pearce / Nautical Fiction

The Admirals’ Game, by David Donachie

The Admirals’ Game is the fifth book in David Donachie’s series about John Pearce. It is 1794, and John Pearce is now a Lieutenant. He has recently returned from the Atlantic. As usual, he gets caught up in power struggles between his superiors. He seems to have a knack for that.

Now he is caught between the constant feuding of a trio of admirals. Their demands put him in positions of extreme danger but, as they know, he will risk a lot to protect his friends. Pearce’s chances of constructing a perjury case against Captain Ralph Barclay seem weak, especially when Barclay is willing to use any pawn to finally silence Pearce.

Since being illegally press-ganged into joining King George’s Navy, John Pearce has overcome numerous adversaries, which has secured him a position of command on board HMS Faron. Having successfully overcome the French at the Siege of Toulon, Pearce and his comrades, the Pelicans, now face the on-going, bloody battle to a part of the English force trying to defend the city against the revolutionaries.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Pearce’s continuing conflict with Captain Ralph Barclay, the man responsible for press-ganging Pearce and his companions into the Navy, intensifies as Barclay faces a court-martial for his actions. But with Barclay’s superiors, Admiral Lord Hood and Admiral Hotham, in a dispute over how to deal with Barclay’s misdeeds, and with his wife, Emily, struggling to cope with his barbarous nature, Barclay’s future looks uncertain. Pearce feels certain he finally has got the evidence he needs to nail Barclay, as well as secure the release of the Pelicans. Pearce’s hope for retribution may occur sooner than he anticipated, but would it be to his advantage?

As Pearce confronts assaults from both the French and his superiors, it becomes clear that Pearce and his comrades are part of a large and potentially fatal plan, where war becomes a calculated game to be won. And that, once more, the manipulation of his superiors is very difficult to deal with for a lowly Lieutenant.
This is a solid and rich historical fiction novel, packed with historical detail and loaded with action. Even so, The Admirals’ Game failed to completely suck me in. There is too much focus on intrigues and grudges and too little on naval action and adventure for my taste. It’s a book I can only recommend to people who are followers of the John Pearce series.


“High adventure…cunningly spliced battle scenes which reek of blood and brine.” –Literary Review