A Tainted Dawn: The Great War (1792-1815) Book I Paperback – Mar 1 2012
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The final quarter of the 18th century was time of immense change and progress in western civilization. There were two momentous political revolutions, one in America and one in France. Radical new ideas were in the air-democracy, liberty, equality, brotherhood (fraternite en Francais) and the rights of man. Nevertheless, these principles were, as they are today, honored more in the breach than in the observance, and, if you had asked any of the three young men whom Barbara Peacock features in her book, A Tainted Dawn, Edward, Louis or Jemmy, none of them would likely have described his life as anything remotely resembling heaven.
Edward is a well-bred young Englishman who attends Eton. His parents have long been estranged and when his sea-captain father dies he wills his property to Edward and mandates that his guardian should be his grandfather, Admiral Ben Deveare. Naively, Edward, wanting to break free of his overbearing mother, agrees to the arrangement. Admiral Deveare is a man of no good will, and Edward soon finds himself at sea in appalling circumstances.
Louis is the son of a solidly middle-class bourgoise tailor and is pursuing legal studies at the University. He is much attracted to the revolutionary ferment going on in France and begins to neglect his studies and become involved in revolutionary activities such as storming the Bastille and forcing King Louis the 16th to leave Versailles and come to Paris. His father staunchly opposes the revolution and when he learns of Louis' activities he disowns him. Louis falls in with some French soldiers and travels with them to Antiqua. He finds himself indentured to a plantation owner to pay for his passage. So strong is Louis' belief in the ideals of the revolution that he continues to try to propagate them even in his new circumstances-something that can only get him into trouble.
Jemmy is the son of an unemployed carpenter. His mother has died and he has a somewhat feeble-minded little sister. He makes a meager living playing the fiddle for coins. Ill-fortune has transformed his father from loving to unkind, and after receiving some harsh words from his father, Jemmy succumbs to the temptation to go to sea. He signs up on the Amphitrite, the same ship on which the hapless Edward is now serving as a midshipman. Jemmy has been endowed with "the gift," sometimes known as "the sight," and when he dreams that his father's life is in danger, he becomes determined to jump ship and go back to England to try to save him.
Barbara Peacock has a masterful knowledge of both nautical lore and the history and politics of the age. Her characters are sympathetic and they come alive through her writing. She deftly captures the spirit of this fascinating and critical time, both its positive and negative aspects. Her characters inhabit a world that is squalid, gritty and dangerous, but not without hope
The stories then break off as each boy finds his way in the world; some on their own, some with "help." Edward is dropped on a boat by his grandfather in hopes he will disappear so then the grandfather can take over the inheritance left to Edward by his father. Jemmy ends up on the same ship as a means of escaping his abusive father. Louis is my least favorite character and the least developed if you ask me. He is one note; Viva la Revolution - and that is it! Oh, excuse me two notes - hate the English boy for all he is worth because he is an Aristo.
I was fascinated when at sea. The life on board the ship and the interactions between the shipmates - good, bad and awful - made for good storytelling. Young Edward had always wanted to go to sea to follow in the footsteps of the father he had never met. He had an ideal of the man that he wanted to live up to; he made many decisions based upon how he felt his father would have.
Jemmy was fiddler for the boat but soon starts having prophetic dreams (really?) and feels he must go home to save his father so he deserts and makes his way back to England. There things go from bad to worse as his dream soon comes true.
Louis is thrown out of his home for his revolutionary ways and finds himself on Trinidad where he tries to import France's ideals to a public not really interested in learning about it. Getting there on borrowed funds to find himself an indentured servant in charge of a team of slaves galls him and he is soon teaching the slaves about The Rights of Man and has them singing revolutionary songs. This does not bode well and he soon finds himself in serious trouble and bound back for France in chains.
All of this happens with a threat of war between Spain and England in the background and of course, the Revolution in France is just about to blow up. This book is the first in a trilogy and it does leave the reader with cliffhangers to set up the next volume. The history is interesting, the life at sea is interesting, the characters - not so interesting. And the set up to make these three bound for life is weak at best. I would find myself really getting into the book and then it would pull back to this link and I would start asking all these questions again and lose my interest in the story. It just didn't make sense to me....maybe it does in the next book? I don't know.
Their personal conflicts take place against the background of the French Revolution and a threat of war possibly involving England, France, and Spain. Much of the action takes place on board Royal Navy ships; other scenes include Paris, London, and the Caribbean. Peacock seems to have done her homework, with convincing details and dialogue. This is a well-crafted novel with well-drawn characters. It is intended as the first book of a trilogy, and the novel ends with the immediate tensions resolved but the characters' future uncertain. My only complaints were that the first chapter introduced so many characters that I had trouble remembering who they all were, and that the book contained quite a few typos. Once immersed in the story, however, I found it hard to stop reading. I look forward to reading the next two books in the saga.
This is a great read for any fans of those series, or those with historical interests in the time period. There was some editing sloppiness, and initially a lot of people to keep track of, but it's a good, lively read.
Peacock’s opening salvo to this promising series satisfies the reader’s need to escape the high-tech, device conscious world of the 21st Century, taking them all the way back to a time when the concept of liberty and human rights brought a serious challenge to bear against the French monarchy.
Brief quotations at the outset of each chapter typically defines the content of that chapter; each one a separate “scene” of Peacock’s sea-going saga. After firmly establishing the three waif protagonists of the series, Peacock takes us into their individual lives and circumstances before thrusting them back together with the force of a crashing rogue wave.