In the wake of the fictional Horatio Hornblower, Jack Aubrey, Richard Delancey, Nicholas Ramage, Richard Bolitho, Nathaniel Drinkwater, Thomas Kydd, William Rennie, and Kit Killigrew - and the real historical officer Michael Fitton, whose equally amazing career was novelised by Showell Styles - yet another hero of the age of fighting sail took to the quarterdeck in Sean Thomas Russell's first book, Under Enemy Colours.
In this book Sean Thomas Russel puts his half-English, half French officer Lieutenant Charles Hayden back in command of the frigate Themis on which he had to contend with a lazy and incompetent but well-connected captain, and a mutiny, in the first book.
To follow in the footsteps of writers of the calibre of C.S. Forester, Patrick O'Brien, and C Northcote Parkinson must take a great deal of courage, and to make a new naval hero stand out from them is quite difficult. I don't think either of Russell's first two books are quite up to the standard of those three, but both are as good or better than most of the more recent crop of historical naval fiction.
Mind you, like some of the best of the other novels in this genre, "A battle won" is not so much fiction as novelised history in which the author's fictional central characters have effectively been inserted into real historical events.
Charles Hayden is the son of an English father, long dead, and a French mother who has remarried, to an American ship-owner, and re-located to Boston. At the start of the previous book, in 1793, Hayden was offered the post of First Lieutenant of the new frigate HMS Themis - but with secret orders that made the job a poisoned chalice of the worst kind.
Hayden had to contend with just about every stock challenge in sailing navy fiction before putting down a mutiny, defeating the French, and winning a coveted and richly deserved promotion to the rank of Master and Commander, the first rung on the ladder to higher rank. He was also promised command of a sloop, HMS Kent, and was on the verge of forming an understanding with a delightful lady called Henrietta.
At the start of this book, Hayden is waiting in Plymouth for the Kent to arrive so that he can take command of her, when he is summoned to see the Port Admiral. HMS Themis is due to be sent to join Lord Hood's mediteranean fleet: having lost patience with the captain who was supposed to take command of her, the port admiral orders Hayden to take acting command of Themis as a "job captain" and sail her to Hood, escorting a convoy on the way.
The battles on sea and at land which follow, from the fall of the royalist rebellion in Toulon to British support for an independent Corsica, would have seemed too extraordinary to be true had not the most remarkable battles and characters in the book been based closely on real events and people. Russell explains in an author's note at the end of the book how certain exploits of HMS Themis and Charles Hayden were based on the real achievements of the frigate HMS Juno and those of Captain George Cook: the real and extraordinary characters who are brought to life in the pages of the novel include the corsican general Paoli and Colonel (later General) John Moore.
The obvious challenges Hayden has to contend with are the defeat of French soldiers and sailors, including a fortress at Mortella which so impressed the British that copies of the design were built as coastal defence fortifications all over Britain and called (the name was slightly mispelled) Martello Towers. But he also has to contend with difficult colleagues, and with the consequences of an act of kindness to two refugees which is repaid with betrayal, threatening Hayden with both financial ruin and the loss of the fair Henrietta.
There is a "hanging" ending as Hayden heads back to sea at the end of the book, leaving several of the storylines unresolved, and the reader eagerly awaiting the third volume in the series.
I enjoyed both the first two books in this story and can recommend them.