Author: Dudley Pope
Price: £2.50 though my book is relatively old so prices may vary
Classification: Nautical Historical Fiction
This book by Dudley Pope was written in the time of the Napoleonic wars when Nelson was still commodore and Britain was still fighting on the seas for supremacy. It is much like the Hornblower series of books in fact this similarity does not just stop at the fact that they are set in the same circumstances. Dudley Pope was actively encouraged by C. S. Forester to the point where in this particular book Hornblower is even mentioned as being Ramage's friend (
I've only just started reading the Hornblower series so I can't tell you whether Ramage is mentioned in them at any point but I doubt it He doesn't).
The book starts with Ramage awaking on the deck of a ship suffering a little bit of shock and amnesia as the sounds of battle ring out around him. He soon discovers that it is up to him to take command of the ship and generally save the day. To cut the synopsis short, he gets the orders that were sealed in the captain's cabin, carries out the mission they dictate and generally saves the day. No cunning twists here. Just adventuring off the coast of Italy.
The protagonist of this series (of which this is the first novel) is lieutenant Ramage. Like Hornblower who has certain hero qualities (namely a keen mind for mathematics and a mean whist player) Ramage also has hero powers, namely being an expert knife thrower, fluent in Italian and an unbelievablely dirty mind. The number of times that our plucky young lord day dreams about the subtleties of the female form does make the writing seem a little purile. Though I can see that Pope is attempting to show how physically attractive Ramage's love interest is one would prefer a slightly more romantic approach to fit better with the nature of the story. The rustic Italian countryside coupled with the majestic sea seems to dictate more from a book than (very) soft core porn.
Now don't flame me for doubting a book just because of the mild sexual references that it contains. This book is an enjoyable quick read. Its fast paced gung-ho naval action and keeps to a strong tradition of historical fiction (though isn't entwined into historical events like books by Bernard Cornwell). One feels a bond with the characters which makes you hope that all turns out well for them. However, I can't help but feel that the writing is not always as fluid as it should be. The first part of the book is excellent and I found it gripping but it is not always like this. I also found it difficult to keep up with all the naval lingo sometimes. I have no idea what a gig is (some sort of small boat AFAIK) nor a top sail and unfortunately E2 has let me down here (though I may end up researching varying nautical terms and noding them). But this hardly brings the book down too much.
All in all a good book for when a leaf on the track leaves you stuck in the middle of the Fens on a stuffy train. I personally intend on reading more in the series next time some transportation difficulties leave me stranded somewhere.