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Britannia's Shark: The Dawlish Chronicles: April - September 1881 Kindle Edition
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Dawlish’s career is characterised by a series of secretive operations to further British interests, well outside the publicly visible face of the Navy. He is one of the servicemen of that age who were willing to experiment with a wide range of emerging technologies, which together were rapidly transforming sea travel and sea warfare from the sailing ships of Nelson’s time to the ironclads of the First World War. Indeed, other than ship-based aircraft, all of the ingredients of modern naval warfare were well formed during Dawlish’s lifetime.
The main emerging technology of this story is the submarine. Antoine vividly captures the claustrophobic horror induced in a man who has been used to open horizons and fresh air, when faced with the constricting darkness, clutter, and polluted atmosphere encountered in this very early prototype. Only total commitment to his calling, and complete acceptance of the necessity of his actions, could overcome Dawlish’s visceral rejection of his situation. The mixed reception of the submarine as a weapon is clear – recognition of its military value alongside repugnance at connotations of cowardice and deceit.
I enjoyed this story considerably more than its predecessor. For one thing there was a much richer, and (for me at least) a much more interesting blend of politics and cultural dynamics alongside the ship and land based fighting. For another, Dawlish’s wife Florence reappears in a crucial role throughout this book, whereas she was relegated to a very minor scene in Britannia’s Reach. Florence is a fine character, and a splendid companion for Nicholas, so it was very pleasing to see her courageously facing danger alongside him.
The political backdrop is also fascinating, as Dawlish is forced to deal with several different factions, all competing for influence and technological advantage. British, Irish, American and Caribbean interests intersect in the story, providing a shifting ground of ambitions and frailties on both national and personal scales. Often in the story – as so often must happen in real service life – respect and friendship cut across the lines drawn by governments.
On a technical level, the book has not been quite so thoroughly edited and proofread as previous volumes, but the typographic slips are still few and far between.
In short, a fine addition to the life story of Nicholas Dawlish, and the extra human and political dimensions explored here push this one up to 5* for me. I shall be looking forward to the next in the series as and when it appears.
As in the first two books our hero continues his undercover duties, and again the writing is a superb mixture of daring do and totally the opposite,(Amazon would not allow the first phrase I used). It is almost guaranteed that if Dawlish has to make a vital shot then something will spoil his aim, likewise when flight or fight is called for he will be the one to loose his footing at the critical moment, actually this story would probably have been shorter with a far more satisfactory outcome if Dawlish had stayed in England, are we sure he is the best the Admiralty have?
But that is the delight of this series, Dawlish is seriously fallible, Mr Vanner very successfully avoids the pitfall of many naval heroes who stroll through their novels avoiding certain death like some Hollywood movie Star.
Another point many other writers of serialised tales could learn from is this authors ability to make brief referrals to previous books without going into long, un-necessary reprinted detail.
Dawlish is simply human like many of the other well written and rounded characters, and those simple facts aligned with a very full and knowledgeable grasp of the machinery and politics of the age in which Dawlish lives makes for a totally absorbing entertaining read.
Well done Mr Vanner, now full steam ahead with book 4.
The story takes our hero on the quest for an early weapon of war that is threatening the British while in the hands of Irish Republicans. It has been designed by a man more like a school teacher than an inventor of a weapon that would go on to terrorise both world wars; that man is John Philip Holland and that weapon is the submarine.
The story is fast paced and thrilling, taking Dawlish from the Adriatic to Britain, then on to America and Cuba. It successfully encompasses the feeling of the 1880's, new technology, old empires and people striving for independence. In Dawlish, Antoine Vanner has created not a boy's own hero of comic book tales (and certain other so called grown up novels), but a fallible human, especially when he is confronted by the claustrophobic interior of the submarine.
Dawlish certainly has ambition as his drive, maybe too much for modern sensibilities, but this is the Victorian age and in showing these traits off Antoine Vanner has not fallen into the trap of recreating the past in our modern image, (I just wish the BBC would do the same, with such programmes as Merlin). He has shown the very real motivation of the Victorian Royal Navy officer and his stories are much the better for it.
I very much look forward to the next instalment of the Dawlish Chronicles.
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