Monday, 1 March 2010

The Nathaniel Drinkwater books by Richard Woodman

Given my liking for both Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin and C.S. Forester's Hornblower books, it is surprising that I have not come across Richard Woodman, and his creation Nathaniel Drinkwater, before, since the first in the series was written about thirty years ago.

The three which I stumbled across were in an omnibus edition: The Bomb Vessel (set around the Battle of Copenhagen), The Corvette (an arctic tale of privateers and whalers) and 1805 (about - yes, you've guessed it, the Battle of Trafalgar).

The first thing to say is that Woodman writes a good story, and the period detail is excellent. There are one or two things, though, which, if correct, are certainly not what I previously understood them to be. For example, I always thought that a sloop was a vessel that was too small to be commanded by a post captain.

Drinkwater is a strong, credible character who commands our attention and respect, and the supporting cast is well drawn too. It is in truth very difficult to assess books like these, since they have such a strongly specialist appeal, and most readers will have their own favourites in favour of whom they may over-compensate. Personally, I would probably rate them, if pushed, below O'Brien and Forester but above Dudley Pope and Alexander Kent, but this is very much a subjective opinion.

They are well-written and a rattling good read, and at the end of the day you cannot ask for much more than that. The difference, I submit, with O'Brien and Forester is that they are serious literary writers who just happen to be writing about the Napoleonic war at sea (and Forester also wrote many books which had nothing to do with it). Woodman is writing very good quality commercial fiction, and good luck to him, for he does it well. Will I read the others? Yes, absolutely.

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