The Greater the Honor by William H White: a review

Best considered a Juvey….

Books like this one–age of sail naval fiction with a midshipman as the main character–evidently need to have one overbearing middie who gets involved in a duel. That obligatory gunfight is here, with a creative, albeit gruesome, twist.

In The Greater the Honor, midshipman Oliver Baldwin follows Stephen Decatur into battle against the Barbary Pirates at Tripoli, in 1804. The story’s historically accurate, near as I can tell, and the principal characters are well drawn. But the prose is dull. Rather than drawing us into the heart of the story, we watch Baldwin’s middie cruise from a distance. This despite the fact that the principal character is also the narrator. The resulting book drags, despite all the action.

White does many things well. The plotting is excellent. The characters aren’t cardboard. He’s chosen a good tale to retell. But making it interesting seems beyond him.

The novel, strictly as a story, is hampered by the unsatisfactory conclusion imposed in real life by the United States Congress; just as events in the Mediterranean reached a climax, Congress replaced the fleet’s leadership. White covers that problem with a trick ending. I should have it seen coming. The ending serves the purpose well enough without being offensive.

A better editor could have chopped about 20% of the words from this book and made it readable. A better author could have saved a third of the length and made the story exciting.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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