This is the weakest of Kent’s Richard Bolitho novels. We’ll discuss why in a minute.
The naval action’s really quite good. Early in the book Bolitho’s in the Caribbean commanding a small squadron assigned an impossible mission, so we get to see the old, reckless Bolitho leading a cutting out expedition despite his high rank. And the book’s final battle sees Admiral Bolitho in the Mediterranean doing battle with a Spanish fleet; the results are pretty much a smaller version of Nelson’s Trafalgar battle. (This is one of Kent’s bloodiest battle accounts, by the way.) Bolitho survives, but his flagship–his old command Hyperion–is sunk as the battle concludes.
Thing is, though, that this smaller Trafalgar occurs pretty much simultaneously with the real Trafalgar, something a knowledgable reader should see coming for the entire novel. This is the sort of thing Dudley Pope does in his Ramage novels. Don’t like it there; don’t like it here.
The book’s real problem, though, is the framing story. Sir Richard’s marriage to Belinda is failing. The causes were already known–it’s a passionless match, the relationship’s built on a fiction (Belinda looks like his first wife), Bolitho’s never home, and Belinda wants to live in London. All this we already knew; there’s nothing on the list we’d not seen in earlier novels. Belinda’s character eventually takes a nasty turn; the author really hasn’t prepared the readers for this.
Meantime a former lover, Catherine Pareja (now Lady Somervell), has re-entered the Admiral’s life. She’s at Antigua with her husband, who’s the King’s agent and more-or-less Bolitho’s superior on station. That the former lovers will argue is predictable; so is their eventual reconciliation. But Kate Somervell’s not Kate Pareja–or at least she’s not convincingly presented. The only apparent reason Richard Bolitho would love this woman is that he loved her before. That might be reason enough, but Kent’s telling simply isn’t convincing.
Anyway, we spend perhaps a hundred pages of this novel in Bolitho’s head as he sorts through these relationships–sometimes even while he’s fighting for his life. It makes for agonizing reading.
We won’t even discuss the bedroom scenes, except to say the author doesn’t do them well. We already knew that.
This review was originally published on LibraryThing.