By Force of Arms

James L. Nelson, Author, Peter Wolverton, Editor Pocket Books $22.95 (340p) ISBN 978-0-671-51924-7
The American Revolution has been well covered in fiction, but almost entirely as a land war-much as the War of 1812 has been treated virtually only as a naval war. By Force of Arms is the first book of a new series that will address the former shortcoming by following the career of Isaac Biddlecomb, a merchant seaman who has risen from the forecastle to the command of a vessel at the opening of the story. Biddlecomb isn't a natural-born hero at home in a hail of grape in the tradition of Hornblower or Aubrey. He is an ordinary American living in an extraordinary time, and Nelson, who has sailed aboard the modern reconstruction of the Revolutionary-period frigate H.M.S. Rose, makes clever use of this device to explain issues of the war and man-of-war life to the reader in unobtrusive fashion. Nelson's seagoing experience is evident in his clear, convincing description of the sailing. His dialogue, however, lacks the period feel of O'Brian and Forester-several times denizens of both the quarterdeck and the forecastle indicate assent with ""Okay,"" which didn't degrade the vernacular for another century. Biddlecomb's sidekick is Ezra Rumstick, part-time patriot, part-time smuggler, full-time friend, and his nemesis is Captain James Wallace, the thoroughly professional commander of the Rose. The characters are strong and realistic, the plot and action believable and brisk, if none too complex, and readers will care enough about Biddlecomb's welfare to reach for Nelson's second installment. On the whole, an engaging start to what promises to be a fine adventure series in a neglected milieu. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/29/1996
Release date: 02/01/1996
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