Lord Macaulay wrote “There were gentlemen and there were seamen in the navy of Charles the Second. But the seamen were not gentlemen; and the gentlemen were not seaman.”
Twenty one year old Matthew Quinton, captain of the Happy Restoration, is from an old and respected family and is brother to an earl. He is very much a gentlemen. As his ship breaks apart on the rocks of Kinsale harbor, he is also painfully aware that he is no seaman. If he survives the loss of his first command, he is determined to learn the ways of the sea. So begins J.D. Davies’ excellent novel, Gentleman Captain.
Despite the loss of his first ship, the young captain is soon given command of another and sent off on a dangerous mission to the wild coast of Scotland. He encounters not only storms, collapsing rigging, and a jammed whipstaff, but also murder, political intrigue, and a range of allies and enemies who may not all be whom they seem. Throw in a noble woman, as treacherous as she is beautiful, and a brutal sea battle where Captain Quinton is outgunned and out manned, it all makes for a rousing read.
J.D. Davies is best known as a scholar of the Restoration Royal Navy, particularly for his highly regarded books, Pepys’s Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation, 1649-1689 and Gentlemen and Tarpaulins: The Officers and Men of the Restoration Navy. In Gentleman Captain he continues to put his his scholarly knowledge to good use as the backdrop for a fun and fanciful tale.
In some respects Gentleman Captain is almost a prequel to all the fine Georgian naval fiction that we know and love, from Hornblower to Aubrey to Kydd and the rest. The Restoration Navy may have had all the same DNA, but in Gentleman Captain is more of an adolescent kid with bad skin as compared to the mature, the globe straddling navy of Nelson and Collingwood.
I am looking forward to reading The Mountain of Gold, the second in the series of the adventures of Matthew Quinton, which is currently available in the UK and will be available in the US on January 31, 2012. Astrodene’s Historical Naval Fiction site has reviewed the book and it sounds great.
J.D. Davies’ Gentleman Captain gives us a glimpse of the Royal Navy of the Restoration while introducing a fine new naval hero who is well on his way to becoming a skilled captain, in addition to being a gentlemen. Highly recommended.