Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Matthew Quinton: Gentleman Captain
Most readers of nautical fiction know the Napoleonic War between England and France is the setting for some of the most exciting books of the genre. Occurring roughly between 1800 and 1815, the battle for European domination, control of colonies and supremacy of the sea itself, form the backdrop of much of the works of authors such as Patrick O’Brian, Julian Stockwin and C.S. Forester.
British historian J.D. Davies is a recent entry into the club of nautical fiction writers and he has taken the novel tack of choosing Restoration England as the setting for his Matthew Quinton series. It is 1662, the Civil War is over and Charles II is on the throne. Matthew Quinton is a royalist political appointee, a “gentleman captain’ who knows nothing about the sea. In fact, he sinks his first command and the death of much of its crew is the tragic impetus for Quinton’s determination to be the best officer he can be.
To my mind, setting this series in the seventeenth century was a stroke of genius. I remember reading an interview with Patrick O’Brian who said he regretted starting his Aubrey-Maturin series so late into the Napoleonic era; he simply ran out of historical time. Beginning his series in 1662, Davies should have no problem where that is concerned. Not only does he get to cover the Anglo-Dutch Wars, but he also has access to the all of the dramatic events of that era such as the plague and great fire of London, as well as the blossoming of scientific progress and societal change brought about by the Enlightenment and later Industrial Revolution.
The series has an additional twist in that the protagonist, rather than a common sailor working his way up the ladder or an officer fighting against patronage for advancement, is already a high-ranking member of British society but a complete and utter landsman. He must earn the trust of his officers and crew the hard way, especially given his disastrous first command. Davies earns high praise for his writing, nautical expertise and interesting characters. Above all, I’m really enjoying reading about another era in naval history.
Volume one, Gentleman Captain, and volume two, Mountain of Gold, are both available at Newport Library. I’m eagerly awaiting volume three in the series, The Blast That Tears The Skies, which is not yet published in the U.S.
The author also maintains a fascinating blog, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins. The blog covers not only the authors own writing, but also his extensive involvement in naval matters, past and present, as well as historical background on his books.
I’m already hooked on the series and if you love nautical fiction, I think you will be too.