Tag Archives: Naval novels

Under the jolly roger

Under the jolly roger / L.A. Meyer. First published 2005.

After my previous post I figured it was time to move on to something different. Under the jolly roger is the third book in the Bloody Jack series. It features a return to the naval novel-style adventures of the first book after the school story interlude of Curse of the blue tattoo.

Brief plot summary

Having made her way back to England aboard the Pequod, Jacky immediately attempts to track down her sweetheard Jaimy. After an encounter with his mother’s classism and a romantic comedy-esque Hilarious Misunderstanding, Jacky finds herself press-ganged into service on the HMS Wolverine.

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The curse of the blue tattoo

The curse of the blue tattoo / L.A. Meyer. Originally published 2004.

The curse of the blue tattoo is the second novel in the Bloody Jack series. Like the rest of the series, the setting departs considerably from that of the previous novel while still maintaining its wit and sense of adventure. It is in equal parts school story, fish-out-of-water comedy, and murder mystery.

Brief plot description

(minimal spoilers for the previous installment)

Bloody Jack ends with Jacky Faber, her gender having been discovered by her captain, being dropped off at an East Coast bording school for young ladies. Jacky is then forced to contend with a minister named Mather, “old money” types, and strict teachers all while trying to figure out how to be reunited with her Jaimy, her One True Love.

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Richard Bolitho, Midshipman

Richard Bolitho, midshipman / Alexander Kent. Originally published 1975.

And now I return to the naval novels. The Bolitho books are the lesser-known cousin of the titans of the genre, the Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin series. Richard Bolitho, Midshipman is the eighth novel to be published but the first in internal chronological order.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Richard Bolitho is a midshipman on the HMS Gorgon. He befriends another midshipman, Martyn Dancer, and they embark on a journey to West Africa, where they encounter adventure, excitement, and a lieutenant with a grudge.

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Bloody Jack

Bloody Jack / L.A. Meyer. Originally published 2002.

In which the heavens open and I find a naval novel I can recommend unambiguously

Bloody Jack is the first volume in the YA historical fiction series of the same title. Set during the same time period as the Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin novels, the series follows the adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber.

This is another series, like the Vorkosigan books, where each volume is sufficiently distinct as to warrant its own post, although I will dip into discussing the series as a whole below.

Brief plot description

(minimal spoilers)

After the death of her parents, Mary “Jacky” Faber finds herself living on the streets of London, part of a gang of similarly orphaned children. Struggling to stay alive, Jacky decides to pose as a boy and join the Royal Navy in an attempt to secure a regular meal for herself.

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On Basilisk station

On Basilisk station / David Weber. Originally published 1993.

The Honor Harrington series, of which On Basilisk station is the first, is essentially Horatio Hornblower in space. Complementing the previous entry, On Basilisk station is thematically and plotwise nearly identical to Beat to quarters/The happy return. I initially checked it out, despite the terrible cover art on every single on of David Weber’s novels (seriously, Baen. What is wrong with your marketing department?), because it seemed to combine my love of naval novels with my love of science fiction.* The fact that the main character is accompanied by a psychic cat certainly helped as well.

*Considering that The wrath of Kahn director Nicolas Meyer was attempting to recreate Horatio Hornblower in space, it’s a combination that seems to work well.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Horatio Hornblower Honor Harrington is captain of the frigate HMS Lydia cruiser Fearless, tasked with defending a remote outpost of the British Empire Star Kingdom of Manticore. The perfidious government of France The People’s Republic of Haven is attempting create an excuse to annex the outpost in order to bolster their economy. Continue reading On Basilisk station

Beat to quarters

Beat to quarters / C.S. Forester. Originally published 1937.

Beat to quarters (UK title: The happy return) is the first book in the Horatio Hornblower series. Chronologically, it takes place somewhere past the midpoint of the character’s career.* The Hornblower books are the best well-known of the Napoleonic naval novels and were turned into a series of films by A&E.  A favorite of Hemingway and Winston Churchill, the series is a classic of the historical adventure genre.

*Yes, I read these in publication order while I read the Vorkosigan saga in internal chronological order. I never said I was consistent.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Horatio Hornblower is captain of the frigate HMS Lydia tasked with supplying a colonial Spanish governor for a revolt. The situation is complicated by his obligation to take Lady Barbara Wellesley as a passenger.

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Master and commander

Master and commander / Patrick O’Brian. Originally published 1969.

I picked up Master and commander because of a growing interest in the Napoleonic era, and naval history in general (largely spurred by my job at the time). The fact that my spouse is an avid Jane Austen fan helped as well. Master and commander is the first book in the lengthy Aubrey-Maturin series, a roman-fleuve* following the adventures of two friends during the early Napoleonic era. The series is noteworthy for blending aspects of the classic naval adventure and the regency romance novels of manners. O’Brian’s insistance on pinpoint period accuracy, down to the very 19th century writing style, makes the series somewhat tricky to recommend, but do to the satirical tone, it manages to avoid the rampant racism and sexism found in many novels set in the same period (C.S. Forester’s novels are some of the most egregious offenders here).

Brief plot description


Jack Aubrey, officer in the British Royal Navy, encounters naturalist/doctor Stephen Maturin when the former’s enthusiastic response to a musical performance discommodes the latter. The two end up becoming fast friends, and when Aubrey is offered a captaincy, he invites the impoverished Maturin to come along as ship’s surgeon.

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