By the Mast Divided audiobook
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John Pearce, son of a political agitator is a wanted man. His flight from the law leads him into the Liberty of Savoy, a part of London belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster and exempt from intrusions by law enforcement. Unfortunately, it is also on the Thames and Captain Ralph Barclay decides that leading an illegal press gang is a small price to pay for warm bodies to haul ropes on his frigate. Pearce and his friends are swept up and find themselves impressed against the law but with no way of protesting their condition. Captain Barclay soon finds out that having a gentlemen, a social equal, on his ship is more disruptive than he could have imagined. And when the man is a natural, born and bred political radical fully capable of inciting a mob, the sailors of Barclay’s HMS Brilliant start to adopt a new outlook on life.
This is an interesting novel without a clear analog to O’Brien, Forrester, Pope, Kent, or any of the other writers of the genre. Pearce, a headstrong and impulsive young man thoroughly smitten by Thomas Paine and the spirit of the French Revolution is interesting. Donnachie knows his stuff when it comes to the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic era.
By the Mast Divided audiobook in series John Pearce
I read age of sail historical fantasy because I enjoy the time period and the navy. I’m now in the 7th book and the main character doesn’t want to be in the navy and maintains his continual attempt to get out of the navy. Not exactly the character you buy these books to read about. A lot of it is totally unbelievable – the main character threatens to hit the captain on his quarterdeck, a hanging offense, with no repercussions. He disputes with Prime Ministers, Admirals, Captains, and Lieutenants. He meets with the King and within 6 months of being pressed as a seaman becomes a lieutenant. The main character has a 20th century outlook on life, which is also fairly unbelievable. The author is a decent writer, his chosen main character stinks.
I have read several of the John Pearce series and I need to warn you: Whoever is responsible for editing the manuscript leaves GLARING misspellings and poorly worded phrases. It is as if the author did a draft and the draft went straight to publishing. I don’t denigrate Donachie’s writing; merely that whoever edits the text is awful and the book printer does not do a good job of correcting misspellings. Specifically, you can always count on “where” being spelled as “were”. It’s rather awful. Donachie is guilty of NOT using commas correctly and some of his sentences, which can get as long as Dickens, suffer from a lack of appropriate pauses.
The tale is a good one and the above comments aside, Donachie is a good writer and plotter. Sometimes one has the feeling that one could read TWO battle scenes in another Fighting Sail authors work in the time it takes Donachie to scribble a single encounter but that too is a matter of taste. I enjoy his take on the same war and years so many other authors from Forester to O’Brien to Pope to Lambdin have explored. HOWEVER, again a caveat. His main character is a bit too forthright in his disrespect to be believable at times. More, the main premise of all these books is to have Pearce one day succeed in freeing his three (or possibly four) friends, known as The Pelicans, from their impressed status in the Royal Navy. By book six, this overriding premise grows a bit old and tiresome. It is time for Donachie to introduce some other theme besides vengeance upon evil Ralph Barclay and freeing his Pelicans.
Audiobook By the Mast Divided by David Donachie
I’ve now read all the O’brian books, the Hornblower series and the Charles Hayden sagas and more. I like this genre and would have thought there was no place left to go, but Donachie does “yeoman” service bringing this era to life. The book starts quite slow — the book is half gone and they have yet to leave the harbor — but the way he spins the yarn makes for interesting reading. Unlike other authors, he shows life before the mast and on the quarterdeck. His villain’s motives are explained, and the villain, Ralph Barclay, is more of a complex man with weaknesses and pressures not appreciated by the crew, as opposed to a cruel man set out to be evil because that’s the way he is. He isn’t evil — he’s human, greedy, cunning, brave and foolhardy, just like anyone else. Life before the mast is more realistically depicted than in most author’s books who tend to homogenize the lowly crew as a single entity. Donachie is able to show that it isn’t — there are cruel men, decent men, intelligent men, stupid men, dedicated men and more, all with their own intricacies and foibles and motivations, just like real people. Moreover, Donachie goes to great effort to describe the living standards of these men, the squalor of the ship and the day to day operation of a sailing vessel in a way O’brian never does. In O’brian’s world, the crew are good or bad, happy or unhappy, work with a will or inept. He makes a few passing references to the stink below decks or to boys getting rogered over a gun, but Donachie brings these every-day things to life — the stink below decks, the casual attitude towards sodomy of boys, the everyday meanness of back breaking work. He also goes to great pains to show the dawning awareness of who is truly cruel and who isn’t, allowing the reader to discover that the world isn’t as good or bad as one thing. It’s refreshing to see this evolve. You can see the characters doing what they do because they are trying to impact their own futures within the confines of their nature, not as evil or good. The one drawback to me seems to be the fractured loyalties of the officers to the Captain. I believe if it were really as Donachie describes the English navy would have come apart and never been able to rule the seas. There is nothing in Donachie’s depiction to pull the men together other than their brutish desire to fight. This seems unrealistic to me. There MUST have been friendship, cameraderie, patriotism, duty and so on among the officers as well as the crew, but in Donachie’s world, the officers despise the Captain as well as each other. They constantly second guess the captain, something I believe would never happen in real life. Even amongst the competitive nature of their roles, there would have to be some friendships made, some reason for loyalty and some joy of their trade. The only ones who actually experience any joy at all are the protagonists. If the opposite were true for the rest, they would have killed themselves long ago because life aboard the frigate is just too depressing otherwise. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, especially the second half as the action picked up. I will continue to read the series and am grateful for another long stretch with characters worth learning about. It would be helpful if the main character, John Pearce, had a few character flaws along the way — he’s too uniformly smart, good looking, capable and lucky to be in his current predicament.
Audio By the Mast Divided narrated by Peter Wickham
I am an avid reader of naval fiction (Alexander Kent, Dudley Pope and Julian Stockwin being my `solid friends`) so it was with some trepidation I decided to try the John Pearce series by David Donache. Book one started off just a little dismally and I thought that I am not going to be impressed with this author and his character. Suddenly, mid-way through the novel something clicked. I then couldnt put it down and by the time I finished reading it, I was already downloading the second book.
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I’m up to the 5th book of the series, and wont be going any further. What had the potential to be a engaging seafaring yarn, quickly becomes a dull land based yawn. Remarkably bereft of sea scrapes and action, this series of books are written with a TV series in mind, something along the lines of Sharpe. There’s an attempt at romance, melodrama and sub-plots, all of which fail to captivate the audience. As the series continues, it gets worse. The author constantly repeats events from his previous books. By the 2nd book, i found myself to skip lines, now having skipped paragraphs, i now skip pages. Little point in getting to the end of the series as i expect to be skipping past chapters.
A good wholesome book about naval life and warfare starting in 1793, with a good insight into the war with France and the effects of the Revolution on both countries, this is the first book in an ongoing saga.
A pleasant read, easily understood as the reader learns sailing terms at the same time as does the hero.
The story line and the the people involved are well introduced and easy to remember and follow throughout the book.
It appears historically accurate, and is an enjoyable way to understand how this tiny island came to rule so much of the world, even if the methods where sometimes cruel and harsh.
This book at 510 pages is the longest of the series yet written.
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