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on 21 August 2012
Well usually I start a review with the negative bits to get them out of the way before going on to the positives. Here I will do the reverse. The good bits were the flashbacks to Bonaventure's (The hero) past and fencing lessons which were ok. The writer can write too with an easy style and wide vocabulary.

It has a nice front cover. Erm...and that is pretty much it.

The main problem with this book was that there was hardly any action. For a book called 'Set the Seas on fire' it failed to produce a small spark let alone a fire. Do you remember the river of fire we were promised as part of the millenium celebrations? this was a similar anti-climax.

We start with a British frigate chasing a spanish Galleon but then cut forward in time to the end of the battle when both ships are damaged and seeking a safe land fall. Which kind of sets the tone for the whole story, for example, in a flashback a young Bonaventure challenges a man to duel but then is talked out of it by his older and wiser mentor.

When the ship lands on a remote unchartered island with huge potential for drama we have the crew welcomed with open arms by the natives even though Bonaventure gets the islands champion's girlfriend pregnant. There is a brief run in with some giant headless bats and a small boy accidently takes a shot at the hero with a stolen pistol but that's your lot for the middle part of the book! (some 200 pages) However not to worry a chance encounter with a couple of runaway spanish sailors leads them to hear of the Spanish Galleon now on a seperate island with it's crew driven mad by some malevolent force dwelling there, turning them into feral demons! Aha getting better...

However the author does not bring us the confrontation till the last 30 pages or so and then largely ignores the Spanish 'demons' for some monsters who live in the caves, who from the descriptions I imagined to be mobile versions of the man eating plant from the little shop of horrors.

I just don't know what went wrong, perhaps the writer fell down between the cracks in between the historical and horror elements? But considering the book is described as 'Hornblower meets Lovecraft' (writer of Gothic horror stories) It lacked the action of CS Forester and didn't have any tension, scares or horror either. All odd as the writer has an impressive CV and has written some of the X-men stories, not exactly lacking in action.

Whatever, if it's a horror/ history crossover you are after can I suggest Annodracula or Twelve as much better options than this.
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on 2 September 2007
Neither a good Navy story nor a good fantasy, both fail miserably. A lot of inaccuracies about Nelsons Navy e.g. Midshipmen did not wear swords - they wore dirks; in the book the crew lift a frigate out of the water 300+ tons!!!! Something even a dock yard could not do: the ship would have fallen to pieces due to the stresses - even in a dry dock the keel has to be fully supported. They would have beached the ship and careened it. Officers were not subject to the lash - see the Seconds Lieutenant's comment on taking his lashes when a prisoner escapes and then we get the ridiculous situation of the First Lieutenant carrying water barrels with the crew - just not done. I suggest the author read a few books such as Popes excellent 'Life in Nelsons Navy', then does some research and applies it. There are plenty of excellent examples. As far as fantasy goes this is left to the very end of the book - is glossed over and finishes most unsatisfactorily. On my version there is a comment by Michael Moorcock, whose fantasy writings should also be read by this author to find out what fantasy is about. A most unsatisfactory read.
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on 14 March 2015
Long drawn out sections. Padded to make the book longer. Does not grip you at all.
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on 28 August 2007
Roberson writes in his Author's Notes at the end of the book about feeling cheated. Join the club mate! £9.99 for a book that totally fails to deliver. "Hornblower meets Lovecraft" it ain't. Panned out with meaningless stories of the main characters education, an encounter with giant bats and a pointless love story, culminating in our hero arriving at the mysterious island only 40 pages from the end of the book! This is a pointless, weak novel.
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on 11 June 2009
With the success of Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, it's not surprising to see more authors exploiting the wealth of background material and possibilities offered by the Napoleonic era.

One such author is Chris Roberson, although to say he delves deeply into the depths of this time period would be incorrect. Set the Seas on Fire follows the crew of an English navy vessel as they voyage into the uncharted waters of the Pacific, far away from the war in Europe.

The story starts well. The English crew - and the protagonist, Bonaventure - chase a Spanish ship and later discover from a survivor that the ship's crew disembarked at a distant island and were afflicted by some sort of madness. Naturally the lure of gold proves too strong, and the English crew set off to see if they can find the island and seize the galleon's gold from the crazed Spanish crew.

Roberson's prose is fluid and highly readable, and he generally manages to recreate the feel of the historical period quite well through his characters' dialogue. The early chapters flit between the crew's voyage and Bonaventure's childhood, adding some depth to the protagonist and helping to keep things fresh.

Then it all starts to go wrong.

I have a couple of major criticisms with Set the Seas on Fire, but I'll start with the biggest culprit: the plot. Or, to be more precise, lack of a plot. To be blunt, nothing really happens in this book. After the decent start and the promise of some sort of deranged zombie-like enemies, the English crew de-camp to a tropical paradise and for the next few hundred pages nothing that interesting really happens. Bonaventure develops a relationship with a native girl (handled in a completely unconvincing way), they get attacked by some bat creatures, and some kid steals a gun. That's about it. Sure, there's some interaction with the natives, the odd clash of interests and some shallow exploration of one or two themes, but it's all rather dull.

When the action finally hots up (far too late) it leads to a complete anti-climax of an ending, which just makes you wonder why you bothered reading that far in the first place (particularly as nothing really gets explained). The chapters that focus on Bonaventure's earlier years are disinteresting at best and utterly pointless at worst. You can't have a novel without a story, and Set the Seas on Fire is scuttled by the lack of any meaningful events or genuine excitement.

The other criticism I have relates to the characters. They're just so...boring. Bonaventure - a rather average protagonist - is fleshed out satisfactorily, but generally the rest of the cast have the collective depth of a paddling pool. There's little in the way of character development and most of the supporting characters are completely forgettable. There's not a memorable personality among them. The most interesting figures are the Spanish crazies, so it's disappointing they only appear at the end.

For a novel that has been mooted as "Horatio Hornblower meets H. P. Lovecraft" it is decidedly lacking in atmosphere, and there's no real tension - even when our not-so-intrepid adventurers approach their final destination. The dramatic finale is totally absent.

It's a shame really, as the idea is a good one and Roberson's prose is comfortably engaging. The novel just never builds on the decent start and the lack of entertaining characters and any real semblance of a plot ultimately results in a monotonous novel that doesn't really go anywhere, and offers little in the way of enjoyment for the duration.
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on 30 March 2010
I think people are being generous with their reviews. This may be one of the worst books I've ever read. Unbelievably bad. I usually struggle through with bad books as a matter of principle, but this one bludgeoned me into defeat. Anachronisms aside, the main crime of this novel was its utter lack of characterisation. This read like vanity publishing gone very wrong. The 'Hero' is two dimensional at best and a cipher at worst. The other characters are infinitely forgettable and about as wooden as the Fortitude. There is a back story about the protagonist growing up that adds nothing to his character and nothing to the plot. There is some utterly bizarre prose and whoever edited this dog's dinner deserve a lick o the cat. There are clumsy word repetitions, more clichés than you could shake a stick at, laborious prose, and clunky and plain ungrammatical sentence structure. One chapter (if you can call 5 paragraphs a chapter) even ends with an exclamation mark! Painful. I laughed out loud when the young Hieronymus suspects Dulac, his aged mentor, might want to bugger him, and seems fairly nonplussed by the thought. How old was this kid? He seemed about ten to me. The love affair Hero has with the native girl is paper thin and utterly unconvincing. When, over half way through the book, some bat monsters flap feebly onto the stage I had to give up. Save trees. Don't buy this book.
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