Harry Potter meets the Royal Navy is the premise of this new fantasy. I found it shelved in science fiction/fantasy, but it will have strong appeal to younger readers. Given the overall tone of the writing, I suspect this may be its true market, though fans of historical sailing adventures will also be intrigued. My overall impression is more favorable than the comments that follow may seem to indicate. The concept is great, but the execution flags a bit.
Halcyon Blithe is a serviceable protagonist and the events of his first posting, encounters with the crew, etc. are well handled, if a bit clich?; a certain amount of clich? and stereotype are de rigueur in the sailing genre. However, nearly 180 of the 286 novel pages float by before there is any sign of a proper conflict. Most of this is spent orienting readers to everyday life on a sailing ship. Fans of Hornblower & company have been here before, but new readers to the genre may benefit. Blithe's fellow midshipmen are introduced all in one early scene--very promising characters all--but most names are forgotten by the time they play any significant role. As the enemy, the Maleen are rather iconic boogeymen, just so many ducks in a shooting gallery. I expect to see them developed further in sequels.
Ward does a fantastic job with the minutia of sailing and combat at sea. Readers familiar with the tactics and doctrines of Napoleonic naval warfare will appreciate this, but I felt the veneer of fantasy was far too thin. The doctrines of Arcana (British) and the enemy Maleen (French/Spanish) are blatantly obvious to fans of C. S. Forester, Dudley Pope, Patrick O'Brian, and Alexander Kent. I'd like to have seen more imagination at work here. Yet he goes overboard on imagination in the explanation of how the dragonships are designed. This seemed too glib and fanciful to suit me--biologically improbable and impractical.
Ther are nearly 10 pages of songs/sea shanties in the text. Yes, they really sang this sort of thing in days of old, but with no clue as to melody, the songs read as so much nautical blather. A little of this goes a long way--maybe one or two verses at most. Better yet, tie the lyrics into the story with foreshadowing or metaphor. I liked the Articles of War serving as chapter introductions. The chapter titles were a very nice touch--perfect for this type of novel and a practice sadly out of fashion.
Despite the flaws, what this book does well is prime younger readers and perhaps those not familiar with the Hornblower milieu, with a great deal of sailing lore, and ready them for further adventures.