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3.8 out of 5 stars21
3.8 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2004
It's probably not fair that when an author decides to write about the English navy during the Napoleonic wars he will be compared to Hornblower, but as the Hornblower novels were one of the first and still the best about this subject, it is to be expected. How does Mr. Lambdin compare? Well, for storytelling, historical accuracy and character development, he's pretty good. However, as a writer--a practitioner of the English language if you will--he leaves a lot to be desired. The prose is pedestrian at best and displays little wit or panache.
The story has to do with a young Englishman in 1780, Alan Lewrie, who after an unfortunate carnal romp with his stepsister is hustled off into the navy as a midshipman. Over the course of the novel he serves on the crew of three different ships, is involved in three terrific battles, and survives a bout with yellow jack fever. He also gets into a duel, falls in love, and has several sexual escapades with various beautiful women. Quite an eventful year, one would think, so much so that it teeters very close to the straining edge of credibility. But if you accept the adventures on their own terms and don't consider them too carefully you'll find that they're not too grossly improbable.
The detail is pretty good. Although there is--by necessity, one supposes--a lot of nautical jargon, the author takes the time to explain a lot it, and it comes across as very informative and interesting. Here is an excellent example, having to the with the ship's cannons: ". . . the guns had been loaded with quarter-weight powder cartridges, eight pounds of powder to propel a thirty-two pound iron ball. An increase in powder charge would not impel the shot any further or faster, since all the powder did not take flame at once." This type of careful explanation, along with the maps and diagrams in the front of the novel, help to make the technical jargon more understandable. If there is a fault with the Hornblower novels, and with the Patrick O'Brian novels as well, it is that the authors perhaps assumed a little too much from their readers.
The characters and descriptions of sea-life are pretty good too. There is a lot of below-decks, working-class banter that one doesn't get in Hornblower and O'Brian, and also much discussion of the day-to-day, hour-to-hour duties of the average sailor. Again, it's interesting and informative and a presents a different view of the sailor's life from that of the officer class.
The problem here is the language which . . . well, it's not awful, but there's nothing elegant or charming about it either. It's a bit coarse on occasion and the f-word is used a little too liberally as well. Worse, it isn't used to convey verisimilitude, or a sense of the times. Lewrie is introduced to his girlfriend's father. His clothing and the, "wig he wore fairly screamed "Country"--of the worst huntin', shootin', ridin', drinkin', tenant-tramplin', dog lovin', View-Halloo variety." Reading language like this, in a novel about English people in 1780, is like listening to the proverbial fingernail on the proverbial chalkboard.
It's quite off-putting, but still probably not enough to prevent me from reading the second novel of this series. Eventually.
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on January 7, 2000
I really did enjoy this book. more than the amount of stars that i gave it. the character is alan lewrie. a rogue and unlikly hero, he is thrown into his majesty's service by circumstance and tries to make the best of it. the action is fast paced and exciting. it does get graphic at times with the effects of splinters and cannon balls. i enjoy how the hero is not all prim and proper made a good refreshing change from hornblower. my only real complaint is the sex. it is heavy and very un-necessary to the overall story. just thrown in to fill some pages. but apart from that the story is interesting and worth a read. but keep in mind that this book is not for everyone and if you are thinking of buying it for your kids then i strongly recommend looking at the hornblower series. otherwise pick it up and give it a read.
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on May 3, 1999
The King's Coat is a good story, maybe better than the 3 stars I rated it, of course I am a fan of nautical fiction with a soft spot for a leading character with a tarnished reputation. It's easy for Hornblower & Bolitho to come out on top in almost every situation because they have no chinks in their armour. Not true with Alan Lewrie. He has some gaps in his character you could sail a ship of the line through! I guess that's what makes this unlikely hero so loveable. The naval detail is good and the characterization is better. The plot was a little thin, more like part I in a larger volume. Sure hope the publishers can find a way to reprint the next book in the series.
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on July 28, 2000
This is nowhere in the literary league of Patrick O'Brian, but seem pretty well researched. The characters are likable and fun, full of weaknesses as well as strengths. The bawdiness of the book is a real pleasure--this were real people having a wild time. The swearing is incredibly creative as well, a nice change from similar books which may say "he cursed like a sailor". The sounds like the way people might really have talked. Great fun.
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on December 10, 1999
The best thing about this book and the subsequent books is that the thoughts and atittudes of the Lewrie character are probably more accurate (ranging from panic to misery to disbelief most of the time) than most of the others in the genre. The pornographic elements telegraph themselves and can be ignored since they have nearly nothing to do with either the story or the character. Great history, though. Roman a Clef like the others, but well rendered.
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