Tuesday, 28 March 2000

Alexander Kent: The Flag Captain (1971)

Edition: Hutchinson & Co, 1971
Review number: 463

It is inevitable that any novel written about the British navy in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century will be compared to Forester's Hornblower novels, to such an extent that endorsements of a novel saying that its hero rivals Hornblower are virtually meaningless. The genre is quite a narrow one, and Forester dominates it overwhelmingly.

Of the better known practitioners of this genre, Alexander Kent is perhaps the most like Forester and his hero Bolitho most like Hornblower. Patrick O'Brien has brought in a twist with the espionage in his novels; Dudley Pope has lightened the Ramage novels to the point of triviality. Bolitho is more heroic than Hornblower, yet his strengths to the modern reader are similar. Like Hornblower, for example, he finds the harsh punishments of the Navy at this time abhorrent; he possesses the ability to make brilliant strategic plans far beyond the grasp of his superiors and those around him; he rises quickly through the ranks despite the disapproval and incomprehension of hidebound superiors; he has the knack of inspiring devotion among those who server under him.

The tone is a little lighter than Hornblower, and Bolitho has an easier time of things (this may not be the case in the novel preceding this one, in which his beloved wife dies, but I have not read it). Worth reading if you like that sort of thing, Kent does not quite match up to the standard of Forester.

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