Alaric Bond’s new novel, True Colours, the third in his Fighting Sail series, is a fascinating and exciting look at a most perilous moment in British history. The novel begins in 1797. Britain is at war with the French and her Dutch allies. A French invasion force, supported by the formidable Dutch Navy is massing across the channel when the unthinkable occurs. The British fleet at Spithead mutinies. Not long after, the fleet at the Nore follows their example. The frigate Pandora returns from convoy duty after an attempted mutiny onboard, and only narrowly escapes being drawn into the Nore mutiny, as well.
The Pandora is dispatched to the North Sea fleet under the command of Admiral Duncan. It is, however, a fleet in name only. The great mutiny has stripped him of most of ships and so Duncan must pretend that his handful of ships is but the vanguard of a much larger fleet just over the horizon. If he can make the charade work, he may be able to buy enough time to gather together a fleet capable of defeating the Dutch and preventing an invasion.
There appears to be two divergent views of the Georgian navy. Most writers of nautical fiction portray the officers and the crew as Nelson did before Trafalgar, as a “band of brothers.” Other writers suggest that the Royal Navy traditions are as Churchill suggested, “Rum, sodomy and the lash.” (A fair case might be made for rum, anyway.)
What is intriguing about True Colours is that Bond demonstrates that the two views may be not necessarily be contradictory. The Royal Navy sailors were the best sailors and shipboard fighters in the world. They were also ill treated and taken advantage of by the Admiralty and the British Parliament. The demands of the mutineers were not unreasonable and a mutiny should never have been necessary. At the same time, a mutiny in time of war is supremely badly timed and the mutineers at the Nore did go too far. Overall Bond give us a nicely balance portrayal of the participants on both sides of the conflict.
Bond’s portray of Admiral Adam Duncan is also fascinating. An under-appreciated character in naval history, Duncan’s tactic of breaking the Dutch line, in the battle which would later be known as Camperdown at the climax of the book, precedes Nelson’s much lauded tactics at Trafalgar, by eight years.
In addition to portraying intriguing history, the writing in True Colours is simply wonderful. As with the other two books of the series, Bond does not focus on the young captain or a single character but shifts gracefully through the points of view of the officers and men (and in one case, a woman,) from the gun deck, to the cockpit, to the wardroom. In the hands of a writer of lesser skill, these shifts of perspective might feel mechanical or confusing, but in True Colours and his previous books, Bond manages to make these shifts feel completely natural and almost organic. His ensemble of characters individually and collectively convey the setting and action so much more effectively than if limited to the viewpoint of one or two characters.
With True Colours, Alaric Bond unquestionably ranks with the best writers of nautical fiction. Highly recommended.