The Gathering Storm (William Rennie 5) Paperback – 6 May 2010
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"Once aboard a frigate, Peter Smalley can be guaranteed to hold his reader a willing captive. This time the adventures of William Rennie and James Hayter take Hayter ashore for much of the time, testing him to almost breaking point, and Smalley's ability to involve proves just as strong there as it is at sea. He is a most powerful story-teller." (Diana Athill)
"What these books are about are old-fashioned concepts such as duty, honour and standing by your friends and knowing what bravery is. They are not demanding, but they are typically exciting, compulsive action adventures. Take one on holiday this year." (Esquire)
'Salute a new master of the sea' Daily ExpressSee all Product description
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Smalley does a fine job of weaving his fictional narrative into the fabric of history (although he does advance the first use of the guillotine by almost a year.) To say more risks spoiling the story for new readers. Even if much of the plot is driven by events ashore, Smalley makes sure that there is plenty of shipboard action: sailing evolutions, repairs, storms, gunnery, boat actions, single- and multiple-ship actions as well as the small daily dramas that swirl around a captain at sea. These passages are the heart of historic naval fiction, and Smalley excels at them. It is aboard the Expedient that the reader finds many of the wonderful minor characters introduced in earlier books.
Hayter and Rennie make a memorable pair. While each may become impatient with the other's shortcomings, their friendship is built on genuine regard and they are fiercely loyal one to the other. Hayter is impetuous, given to following his heart without thought for the consequences. Rennie is a no-nonsense sea officer, plain-spoken in his desire for everything to be well-ordered and above board. He can be downcast on land, but he comes gloriously into his own when commanding men on the deck of a ship. There are several occasions when one man might well not have survived but for the unique gifts of his friend.
The well-developed plot and characters are complemented by Smalley's writing. The action passages are compelling and the interior monologues powerful without being unduly long. The impersonal narrative voice sometimes coalesces into an ironic comment, but is never intrusive. Smalley's dialog is masterfully done. He avoids one-size-fits-all Eighteenth Centurian (as my wife says) speech; instead, each character's speech is uniquely his or her own. Smalley is very aware, for instance, that a well-placed "Ah" can be more revealing than a paragraph of maundering. His trick of telegraphing unspoken thoughts next to speech is very effective.
The Gathering Storm is a worthy addition to a worthy series. Thank you Mister Smalley -- I look forward to the next book.
Rennie meanwhile is back on Expedient, refitting for another nebulous commission with the all-too-familiar feel of the Secret Service Fund's hand at the tiller. A suave, not to say louche new man at the Fund replaces the repellent and failing Greer, presenting Hayter with Hobson's choice - become a spy or never sail again; Rennie with another secret 'survey'; and alienating the marvellously prickly Port Admiral (cf Trevor Howard as Captain Bligh) into the bargain.
The new man Mappin proves just as duplicitous, if not quite as odious as Greer, when it turns out that all our brave heroes' efforts were in vain, at great cost in men, ships, and integrity.
Hayter is let off the hook again, as his rampant hormones get him into another, quickly extinguished, extra-marital affair.
Both Hayter and Rennie's inventiveness, leadership and seamanship are tested to the limits against insuperable odds in this edge-of-the-seat action tale, while the political machinations leave us wondering exactly what the devil is going on ...
All this is story-telling at its best; a deep, intelligent, intricate storyline, creating believably solid characters with concise use of language - would that I could write this well! *****
The characters were individuals and whilst each sought out their own goals it did feel that at times they were hard pressed to have reason's for doing some of the things that they did. It is a reasonable book, it was readable but its not one that makes you sit up and pay attention and, if you'll pardon the pun, is a title that will slip through the waves, to sit calmly on the shelves waiting to grab a passerby.
Seriously good read though I like Smalley's developing style the sparsity of his descriptions and the florid period language really work for me.
let's be honest at points the plot is very silly but never less than engaging, that said the beginning is terrific and tremendously bleak and Smalley is never afraid of investigating his characters frailties and shortcomings.
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