For fans of his “Revolution at Sea Saga,” Jame’s Nelson’s The French Prize is an introduction to the next generation. Isaac Biddlecombe, the Revolutionary War naval hero of the previous saga, has a son, Jack, coming of age in the young American republic. The novel is set during the so-called Quasi-War, an undeclared war fought almost entirely at sea between the United States of America and the French Republic from 1798 to 1800. Jack Biddlecombe is a skilled sailor and ship’s officer, while also a bit of a hot-head and a brawler. He has been given his first command, the merchant ship Abigail, bound for Barbados. Concerned about the danger of French privateers in the West Indies, the ship owner has six pound cannon installed on the deck of the ship. Oddly, the ship owner also happens to be one of his father’s political rivals. As Jack sails for the West Indies, toward the guns of a French warship, he is wholly unaware of the layers of political intrigue that surround the voyage.
In addition to duels, storms, and battles at sea, Nelson gives Jack Biddlecome an engaging passenger for the trip in the form of William Wentworth, of the “Boston Wentworths”, the son of wealth and position, who seems in equal parts amused, annoyed and intrigued by the young captain. When they aren’t literally trying to kill each other, they become allies of sorts. I would not be surprised to see William Wentworth in future books of the series. The French Prize is a fun and engaging read.