Monday, December 3, 2012

Foreign Traveller in Drake's Galley

At Drake's Command: The Adventures of Peregrine James During the Second Navigation of the World. / David Wesley Hill. Published by Temurlone Press, November 2012. ISBN 978-0983611721.

The Grumpy Old Bookman’s prediction is that the author stands next in the line up of well-regarded maritime storytellers. Accordingly, Hill is in good company with C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brien---much loved among those whose passion for historical fiction evokes their own earlier days on the seas, or perhaps the romance of danger and daring that this kind of tale elicits. Our story, At Drake's Command: The Adventures of Peregrine James During the Second Navigation of the World, begins in late Elizabethan England in 1577, when European nations sought wealth by claiming foreign lands and ports, thus securing ownership of coveted resources they had discovered around the world. At the time England’s only measurable rivals were Spain and Portugal. Queen Elizabeth authorized Captain Francis Drake to guarantee her sovereign power by circumnavigating the world and obtaining for England the wealth and power of her rivals.

David Wesley Hill is an accomplished author whose newest book relates the adventures of Francis Drake and crew on the Pelican (an earlier version of the Golden Hind) on a voyage around the globe to find treasure and the route through the Straits of Anian, outdoing efforts of the Spanish and Portuguese to maintain control of foreign coastlines.

Piracy was common, as was escape from a near-death experience; surprise and capture was often the only means of survival at sea. A captain, by unscrupulous manipulation of his crew, used the tools of his trade well. He had already calculated his risk by selecting sailors who exhibited personal courage prior to the voyage. So the captain was confident his crew had the guts to meet extreme danger with nerve and bravery, although none of them were as acquainted with that edge in their character as the captain. And the ideal captain maintained a wary outlook: he was in constant vigil for behavior that might reveal plans for mutiny. As fate would have it, this knowledge often led to expelling a sailor mid-voyage from the ship. So intimate was the trust expected between captain and sailor, that once betrayed, no amount of reasoning could persuade a reunion.

Peregrine James, Hill’s main character who is boy turned sailor turned sea cook, is an innocent and pure type who accepts Drake as his master. In just three months, Mr. James manages to rise from public disgrace in Plymouth, England, to become one of Drake’s favorites at sea and just as quickly to fall from that privilege into exile. Yet he meets this fate with the least effort, over a moral issue rather than any other. When climbing aloft, sailors handle personal danger with cunning, prayer, or cursing, relying on no one else to prove their valor. In this story Perry James seizes any opportunity to become a hero and keep his own honor in tact, as well as his captain’s.

Known as the seafaring life, the trials of sailors live on as true accounts or sometimes fantastic tales. The truth is hidden in past eras and obscured by the attention paid the famous captain. In these tales of adventure and subsequent personal maturity, the precarious advance from boyhood to manhood always comes into question---will the character escape with his life and prove his worth despite his master who cares not for his safety? And will his master again show appreciation or be relegated to history as a scoundrel who secured an empire for the Queen? Readers await the sequel “Desperate Bankrupts” for part two of the story.

See a partial catalog of books on the heroes and scoundrels of maritime history in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library here.

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