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on January 15, 2004
Bolitho is ordered to take his command, the 74-gun ship-of-the-line Hyperion to join Admiral Hood in his attempt to take Toulon. He is seconded, however, to another admiral who has orders to take a small island in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, it is already occupied by the French. In the ensuing battle, the admiral is killed and eventually he is placed under the command of yet another, in Gibraltar; an old acquaintance--one whom he had once replaced as commander of a frigate--and, unfortunately for his present situation, outshone.

This is an intricate story, but easy to follow, with lots of action and excellent character development. After reading a few of these Bolitho books the characters seem to live and breathe.

Alexander Kent is surely, as they say on the cover, "One of our foremost writers of naval fiction."

I hope you enjoy his stroies as much as I do.

Joseph (Joe) Pierre, USN (Ret)

author of Handguns and Freedom...their care and maintenance
and other books
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on February 14, 2001
The title really tells it all in this one. Kent is at his best delivering naval action after naval action. It's all here; cutting out actions, land assaults, night actions, fire ships, nasty sword play and ships of the line delivering thundering broadsides. Nobody delivers the action like Kent did at his peak. Form Line of Battle is one of the best of the first 9 (in chronological order) if not the best.
Form Line of Battle was the second Bolitho novel published following To Glory We Steer. Kent put 10 years between the 2 novels and then filled in the gaps over the next 2 decades with novels of varying quality. Not surprisingly Form Line of Battle flows relatively seamlessly from the earlier novel and is consistent with the stories in between. None of the action from its immediate predecessor, With All Despatch, is even hinted at. That's just as well as With All Despatch is one of the weaker between the wars novels. The Richard Bolitho of Form Line of Battle is a much less tragic figure than the one in With All Despatch..
While Form Line of Battle is a classic action romance, Kent does include the realism one would expect from a World War II veteran writing at the height of the Vietnam War. The battle scenes are exciting but violent and realistic. Men die horribly or are mutilated painfully and Kent doesn't hide it. He does not glorify the war or its deeds.
The story itself is set against the backdrop of an invasion of Toulon which the reader knows is going to fail. The futility of this invasion and the diversion that Bolitho leads must have struck cords with Vietnam era readers. Other Vietnam era references are apparent such as "peace with honour" although In Gallant Company had more obvious allegories.
Kent is not great at characterization or dialogue. If you want them in the Napoleonic era then you have to steer to O'Brian. However, he does manage to provide a thoroughly unlikable commanding officer with some depth and some sympathy. But primarily Kent is read for the action at sea in a bygone era and in Form Line of Battle he delivers in spades.
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on July 20, 2000
This exciting, at times melancholy adventure is my second all-time favorite Bolitho book. Alexander Kent writes about warfare at sea like no other, and knows the meaning of loyalty and comradeship.
Commanding a ship of the line in the Mediterranean, Bolitho gets involved in a smaller operation a la Toulon in 1793. Faced with almost overwhelming odds in men and guns, an incompetent and revenge minded-superior (they have met before), Bolitho not only outsails and outfights the enemy, but he dazzles his admiral's intended and wins her from under the admiral's nose.
These books are also leadership studies, and can teach the student, or junior officer, how to lead and treat the troops in his charge. The author was a Royal Navy officer in World War II, saw his share of combat in motor torpedo boats, and so knows something of the subject.
These exciting and completely believable novels of high adventure and bloody sea fights are entertaining, frought with danger and the crash of cannon, the smell of gunppowder and are written by a master story teller who is one of the best in the business.
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on August 19, 1999
Napoleon's star is starting to rise from the chaos of Revolutionary France as Richard Bolitho, with his first ship-of-the-line command, joins the Royal Navy force off Toulon. He finds himself once more dogged by unimaginative and flawed superiors, but nevertheless is successful in capturing an island base, and of establishing a foothold on the French Mediterranean coast with the help of French loyalist sympathisers. Bolitho acquits himself admirably throughout, rising to the challenges of higher command, but the overall strategic situation is running very strongly against the British. The story culminates in a major fleet action which is splendidly described, the sheer horror and terror of close action on wooden ships coming across very strongly. The political context, particularly the plight of civilians caught in what amounts to a civil war between the Revolutionary Government and the Royalists and their foreign allies, provides an interesting backdrop to much of the action. Characters from earlier stories play a significant (and in one case, wholly unexpected) part in the story, and Bolitho finds true love with a new one. In summary, another excellent entertainment in the best Alexander Kent tradition.
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on June 12, 2001
Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! The feel of the deck, smell of the gunpowder, the roar of the cannon. Makes you feel like you were on the HMS Hyperion. Richard Bolitho rocks! This is set during the Wars of the French Revolution. Bolitho gets command of the Hyperion, a British two-decker. The Revolutionary forces of France had just beheaded Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Toulon is under attack and British and allied forces are in full retreat. Bolitho and Hyperion are blockading Toulon while evacuating the French port. This book is reminiscent of Vietnam. The evacuation of Toulon's like the evacuation of Saigon in 1975.
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on December 24, 2001
Another slendidly written masterpiece from Mr. Kent. Bolitho again sets his sails into thundering actions, a bit of romance, some nefarious villains, crisply-written battle scenes that almost deafen the reader. The age of sail is clearly defined in this ninth Bolitho adventure that is one of the best in the series. Plenty of historical flavor, the workings of a British warship (HMS Hyperion) at sea are marvelous to read. Wonderful character development and splintering decks and freezing sea spray for the nautical buffs. An outstanding addition to the series.
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on June 24, 2011
I have read the Hornblower series, then the Alexander Kent series plus two of Sean Thomas Russell, also excellent.

The search is on for another Napoleonic naval fiction writer. Any suggestions?
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