Category Archives: Fiction

“An Onshore Storm”

Dewey Lambdin

I really like the Alan Lewrie series. With one exception they’ve all been good reads, and some have been excellent. This one, though, is a real clinker. It doesn’t move Lewrie’s story much, and the writing is dull and repetitious. Our naval hero attacking a bridge is about the most exciting thing in the book, something that’s no more exciting the second time he does it.

“Weegee: Serial Photographer”

Max de Radigu├Ęs

This is a graphic novel about the New York City news photographer Arthur Fellig, who used the pseudonym “Weegee”. I originally saw it in the store of the fantastic Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels. The fictionalized story didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but it’s an interesting work nevertheless.

“Battle for Rome”

Ian James Ross

This is the third book in the “Twilight of Empire” series that started with “War at the Edge of the World” and continued in “Swords Around the Throne“. The main character is Aurelius Castus, a Roman soldier in Britain in the 4th century AD as the series starts who eventually becomes tribune of a legion. Castus’ career parallels the rise of Constantine and the third book ends with Constantine’s defeat of Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.

I’ve enjoyed this series so far. The period isn’t a common one for historical novels about the Roman Empire. There’s a lot of variety in the settings and Ross is particularly good at writing about battles, of which there are many. One thing I appreciated is that Castus isn’t all that bright. It’s not that he’s stupid, but unlike most heroes in historical fiction he makes mistakes and gets taken advantage of. Those failings make him seem a bit more real and a more sympathetic character.

“The Aeneid”

Virgil (translated by Robert Fagles)

After reading “The Illiad” and “The Odyssey” I had to read Virgil’s story of the flight of Aeneas from the doomed city of Troy and his journey to Italy to found Rome.

It’s common, when visiting art museums, to see classical statues labeled “Roman copy of Greek original”. That’s when kept coming to mind as I read this book. Virgil, writing in the first century AD strove mightily to tie Rome to the ancient (ancient even to him) Greeks. I was almost always aware that it was a poem written to submit to the emperor to glorify Rome rather than a work of art focused on human nature (which is what Homer’s works are).

There are a lot of incidents in “The Aeneid” and some, for instance the fall of Troy and the story of Queen Dido, are satisfying on their own. As a whole, though, it’s like a modern action movie with some great scenes but a lack of character and dramatic pacing.

“The Devil to Pay”

David Donachie

This is book eleven of Donachie’s John Pearce series. Since I’m reading a bunch of them in sequence…

OK, enough, it’s time to say something about this series.

I read a lot of naval historical fiction, especially novels set in the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic Era. I admit, I like them all. This series, however, really stands out.

For starters, Doncahie’s protagonist, John Pearce, starts out as a pressed man. Though he shares this with Julian Stockwin’s Tom Kydd, more of this series is devoted to the life of the common sailor and even when Pearce is — somewhat undeservedly — promoted, his seaman friends remain part of the story. Moreover Pearce is illegally pressed, and his quest for justice — and to get out of the navy — provides the narrative drive of the series. Pearce’s eduction in the navy is an interesting part of the story.

Another thing that distinguishes this series from others in the genre is that not all the men of the Royal Navy are heroes. One of two bad apples isn’t too unusual in this sort of book, but the Pearce books have barrels of them: there are cowards and money-grubbing officers, not to mention admirals more interested in politics than in their duties. But Donachie’s villains have their reasons and their backstories, which makes them both more interesting than cardboard baddies and more believable.

The morals of the era are respected. Which isn’t to say people don’t stray, but there’s always the risk of social consequences. Also, the poverty and hardships of the era are graphically portrayed.

One thing about that could use improvement: Donachie, though he knows and describes ship-handling very clearly, isn’t as good as some authors in describing naval battles. It takes a little effort to follow the events once the guns are run out.

(I don’t think I’ve ever commented on book covers in this blog, but I have to say: the ones for this series are really awful.)