"A Country of Our Own"
(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer FEB 25, 2004)
"The First thing Ker Claiborne realized that morning was not that this day he was to fight a duel, but that his monkey was no longer in bed beside him. The sheets still smelled of ape, but the animal wasn't there.
Rubbing his eyes, peering across the room in the vibrating light that preceded dawn, it took him some seconds to make out the furry shape of C. August Dupin, holding one of his master's pistols. And even then sighting down the barrel at him.
Fully and suddenly awake, he threw the coverlet back. Then froze, hearing the ratcheting click of the hammer being pulled to cock. Remembering how intently the beast had observed him as he cleaned, oiled, and loaded the finely crafted Bertrand & Javalet. How he'd watched his master extend the weapon, aim, and squeeze..."
In Fire on the Waters we met Lt. Ker Claiborne, who, torn between loyalty to the United States and to his home state of Virginia, has decided to fight for the Confederate side. He goes south, where he runs into another character from the last book, Captain Parker Trezevant, and on their converted side-wheeler attempt to help their side's cause in any way possible, mostly by running blockades and burning any ship that gets in their way. A cleverly laid trap takes their ship away from them, and Ker must go to the only place where he can get a new one...England. The ships there don't thrill him overmuch, until he claps eyes on a beautiful clipper, the U.S.S. Maryland , and he wonders...if he can capture Union ships back home, why can't he capture one on the open seas? So he waits patiently for the soon to be ex-opium trade ship to leave England's territorial waters, in order make her his richest prize...and a weapon he can wield with great efficiency against the Union he once sought to preserve.
A Country of Our Own continues the high adventure tradition forged in the previous book. There is an amazing amount of detail, especially in the sea going parts. It's interesting to know precisely why Trezevant and Claiborne are not real thrilled with their top heavy converted packet ship, and how they have to work with the ship's deficiencies in battle as well as during the calm parts between. The Maryland handles much better, a sharp little ship that provides a lot of interest to the story, in both the adventure of her capture and in how Ker adjusts to handling her. Poyer has a reputation for writing sea adventures that hearken back to the works of Patrick O'Brien (His works have been turned into the recent movie Master and Commander ) and C.S. Forester (best known for his Hornblower books) His vividly real scenes make you feel the swell of the waves and the smell of the salt.
The focus for this novel switches entirely away from the main character of the last one, Eli Eaker, though we do hear a rumor that he might have gotten his own back against his father. Some of the story lines felt slightly unresolved, so I can only hope that they will come back to us in a future novel. There has to be a sequel...I can not, of course, tell you why, but, trust me, there has to be one. Though I considered Eli to be my favorite character in the last book, I found myself rather liking Ker a lot. He's a different person...more sure of himself, perhaps even a bit more daring, the satisfaction of honor sometimes being one of this most important traits. Of course, his monkey adores him, which means something, I think. The monkey, C. Auguste Dupin is one of the most charming aspects of the books. He's an evil little thing sometimes, as detailed in the quote above, but when Ker is forced to leave him behind, I was rather disappointed. Hopefully Dupin, as well, will catch up to his master later.
Exciting and interesting, Poyer's second book about the Civil War at sea is sure to please would be swashbucklers and historical adventure fans.
- Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from A Country of Our Own at SimonSays.com
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"Fire on the Waters"
(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer FEB 22, 2004)
The closet thing to sailing that Elisha Eaker has ever experienced was the time he went out on Cornelius Vanderbilt's yacht...and even then he didn't make the open water. Yet he finds himself volunteering to ship out on the U.S.S. Owanee . He has recently discovered that he is sick, and hopes that the sea air will do him good. He also goes to defend his country if the southern states do, indeed, decide to go to war. He would rather die on the deck of a ship than in a sick bed. He leaves behind an angry father and a fiancee, Araminta Van Velsor, whose desire to act and to become an abolitionist is something her domineering uncle would like to crush, even as he has often tried to control and crush his own son's will. Onboard, Eli meets the other main character of this story, Lieutenant Ker Calibourne, who will soon find himself a captain with mixed loyalties.
These mixed loyalties are something that I got a real feel for while reading this book. Being in the United States, where I can pretty much move anywhere I want and live anywhere I want, I don't really feel rooted or loyal to any one state. I feel loyal to my country, and so it is a surprise (well, maybe that's too much of a word...this idea has occurred to me before, having read a bit on the Civil War, but I think it just never impacted me so keenly) to read how heart tearing the decision for many of these men was...Ker spends much of the time trying to decide if his loyalty is to his home state or to the United Sates, and his decision is not easily reached. In some ways, it's an inevitable one...no one in the northern navy feels they can trust him, being a southerner, and it makes it even more difficult, because he knows he has to make that decision before it comes too late and the southern navy decides it can't trust him, either. It's tough, and I'm impressed by how Poyer uses these ideas of torn loyalties and people trying to do what's right while keeping true to their own hearts in many ways through out this book to add a great deal of tension as well as empathy for the characters.
If, while watching certain sea-going movies that are doing fairly well in the box office right now you find your taste has been whetted for a realistic feeling sea going adventure, this book could be perfect for you. The details of the ship are richly rendered, from the battles (which are really quite exciting) to the most mundane things. One of the personal highlights for me was the monkey...the Owanee picked up some monkeys at one of their ports (it was a trading vessel just coming off a fairly long expedition) and the scenes between it and Ker are extremely endearing.
I keep talking about Ker, but really my favorite character was the main one, Eli. He knows nothing...he's seriously winging everything. He's given a position, and he basically nods and says, "Yes, I know all about it, leave it to me!"...and a few moments later, his nose is buried in his books, or he's interviewing some of the sailors. Through guts and intelligence, he manages to pull off some pretty amazing things. There are some high action places where he's in charge, and while he freely admits to himself...and us...that he's scared stiff, the crew around him marvel at his seemingly natural abilities. He's definitely a character you want to cheer for.
Of course, one of the most important things is the historical feel. From the very beginning, Poyer tries to transport the reader back to the time, using chapter section headings (you have probably seen them...the section at the beginning of each chapter that gives us a quick, if enigmatic glimpse, of the contents of the chapter.) and a dash instead of quotation marks to mark dialogue. To be honest, this is the only flaw of the book. The headings are fine, but, well, a girl likes her quotes. I think most readers will find that they get used to this much easier than I did...I'm also an editor, and sometimes I find it hard to separate my reading-for-editing with my reading-for-pleasure. But this doesn't answer the question I posed at the beginning. I think that the historical accuracy feels really strong. Poyer cleverly manages to make his characters part of some very large happenings...for instance, they are witness to the fall of Fort Sumter, the action that effectively started the war between the states (which, to be honest, the north really didn't think they'd see come to pass) in earnest. Poyer uses other characters, an engineer, a runaway slave, and Ariminta to show other viewpoints and other happenings that the main characters can't be present for.
A excellent naval adventure with fabulous depth and detail...a real winner for those looking for a sea going adventure, or even someone looking for a different historical novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 22 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Fire on the Waters at SimonSays.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Stepfather Bank (1987)
- The Shiloh Project (1988)
- The Return of Philo T. McGiffin (1982)
- White Continent (1989)
- The Only Thing to Fear (1995)
- Thunder on the Mountain: A Novel of 1936 (1999)
Hemlock County Series:
Dan Lenson: Tales of the Modern Navy Series:
- The Med (1988)
- The Gulf (1990)
- The Circle (1992)
- The Passage (1994)
- Tomahawk (2000)
- China Sea (2000)
- Black Storm (2002)
- The Command (June 2004)
- The Threat (October 2006)
- Korea Strait (December 2007)
- The Weapon (November 2008)
Tiller Galloway Underwater Thriller Series:
Novels of the Civil War at Sea Series:
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- Official website for David Poyer
- Nautical.com on David Poyer's books
- Post Gazette review of Thunder on the Mountain
- Copperfield review of Fire on the Waters
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About the Author:
David Poyer grew up in Western Pennsylvania. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis (Class of '71) and his naval service included sea duties around the world. He has taught or lectured at colleges and universities across the country, was a founding editor of the New Virginia Review and is currently a consulting editor for the State Street Review. His fiction is required reading in the U.S. Naval Academy's "Literature of the Sea" course.
He is the most popular living author of American sea fiction. Sailor, engineer, and retired naval captain, he lives on Virginia's Eastern Shore with novelist Lenore Hart and their daughter.