The Jackass Frigate (a name sometimes used for small ‘sixth-rate’ frigates) is the second book in Alaric Bond’s Fighting Sails series. I was very favorably impressed with the first book and was looking forward to this one.
The book begins with a scene that sets the tone for most of the book: Two old friends meet on a new ship, the jackass frigate HMS Pandora. They are Mr. King and Mr. Lewis, both characters we became acquainted within the first book. They are both young – Mr. King is a Midshipman, Mr. Lewis is a young seaman who has been promoted from the ranks to a master’s mate. Now they are to serve together again on a new ship. Mr. Lewis has been on the ship a short while already, and King is eager to see it:
«Might you show me the ship?» King asks.
«Aye. Now’s a safe time, Mr. Pigot’ll be asleep, more’n like.»
Mr. Pigot, it very soon turns out, is the tyrannical First Lieutenant – a Janus-faced, evil man.
The book grabbed hold of me after just some very few pages, which doesn’t happen all that often. C.S. Forester most often would grab me pretty early in his Hornblower novels – most often because I would feel sorry for poor Horatio who would often be much too hard on himself. Patrick O’Brian and Dudley Pope too knew a thing or two about grabbing a firm hold of their readers early on. And somehow – even though the style is very different and there really aren’t any heroes in the Fighting Sails series, as far as I can see, two books into it – Alaric Bond is quite deft at doing the same. And in this book, he grabbed me and held on to the last page.
The tale is tall and interesting: the intriguing and very well done story of the tyrant, the tale of an event-filled journey to Gibraltar to meet up with the English Fleet under Sir John Jarvis. There is an intensely suspenseful naval battle in the fog, as well as, but not to be easily forgotten: the fall of the tyrant. And then we arrive at the final leg of the thrilling journey of the small jackass frigate: where she joins the fleet and takes part in the historical Battle of Cape St. Vincents – one of the largest British naval battles, and one where the many of the huge naval heroes were present, including Sir John Jarvis and Sir Horatio Nelson. And what a magnificent tale Alaric Bond spins – it is one of the best descriptions I have read of this battle (I have read far too many)!
In The Jackass Frigate Alaric Bond again tells his story by alternating views among a group of characters that all play parts in the tale. We follow some of the same characters as in the previous book and also new ones – high and low in rank, young and old. This is a demanding technique, but Bond pulls it off elegantly: he does it by creating for us a dramatic tale, lots of action, and characters that feel very alive. We get to learn about the characters, understand them, and engage in them -it is very well done.
Alaric Bond may not be quite up to the standards of O’Brian and Forester as far as historical research is concerned, but he is quite good. His descriptions of life at sea—ship handling, seamanship, daily life among officers and crew, and so on—are excellent. Indeed, as a writer, he is in my opinion right up there with the big names in the genre. If you like nautical fiction, and you haven’t read him, I urge you to do so. The Jackass Frigate is a very good historical fiction, first-rate entertainment, and a great read.