The Privateersman

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The Privateersman (A Poor Man at the Gate Series)

Last Free Dates: 9th Jan 20 to 11th Jan 20
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Tom Andrews is little more than a boy when husband of smugglers are caught by the Excise men and his father is killed. After a narrow escape, the Dorset lad takes to the seas, journeying to the Americas, taking part in piracy, slavery, and war, before trying to settle down…

I was getting ready to slate this book in the early pages for not doing the research: a Dorset ex-smuggler heading to Poole to take service in the fishing trade? Did he really not know what else Poole’s sea trade was famous for? Then he was coshed him over the head in a dark alley, and I let out a sigh of relief and settled in to enjoy what turned out to be a true adventure epic.

This is a Georgian epic, written in the style of the time. It is also a rags to riches adventure yarn, if a little detached to be called rip-roaring. Tom himself is an interesting lead; not, shall we say, given to moralising or reflection and with very few scruples. He doesn’t care about what is right, so much as what is right for Tom, but offsets this with a code of honour and loyalty to his friends that prevents him being utterly unlikeable. Smugglers and pirates, to war and politics, Tom Andrews turns his hand to all of it in his steady rise.

The author states he has deliberately mimicked the Georgian writing style but I have to say I know who the writing style reminds me of: Nicholas Montserrat. And I say that as a high compliment. With the current focus on minimalist writing styles, it is fun to read something so different. The rags to riches epic is something of a neglected genre, and this is a great example of one.

One of the best things is that the characters are definitely people of their time, with attitudes to match. This might make uncomfortable reading for anyone expecting twenty-first century outlooks in their hero, but these are not modern-day transplants, and the author doesn’t soften this to make them more acceptable to modern readers. This is not to say the characters are cardboard, as their views, class, and experiences shape their personalities While the focus is on Tom there is a rich supporting cast of people he encounters on his voyages, and his later attempts to settle down and they ring very true to their times and stations without being stereotypes.

If it had a flaw it is that things seemed to me to be too easy to Tom: a crooked lawyer falls conveniently to hand, yet isn’t so crooked he won’t stay bought. Corruption is obvious and easily spotted, enemies dispatched ruthlessly if effectively, and the law never quite catches up. Loyal friends are always to be found when he needs them. I found it very hard at times to believe that Tom was truly in jeopardy. This may be part of the style though, as the same is true of many stories from the actual period.

Lovers of historical novels, family sagas and the like should give this a look. It is complete in its own right, as Tom settles down to a new stage in his life, but the sequel promises great things. The sample at the end made me want to get the next book.

Rating: 4
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