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Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Shot Rolling Ship by David Donachie

Genre: Nautical Fiction

Setting: England and France in the early 1793, during the French revolution.

This is the second novel in Donachie's John Pearce series.  John Pearce is the son of Adam Pearce who is a fiery public speaker.  His subjects are freedom, liberty, and the end of the monarchy.   After the beginning of the French revolution, Adam Pearce becomes even bolder in his speeches against the king.  When he oversteps the patience of the government, a warrant is is issued for the arrest of Adam, and his son John.  Adam flees to France and John flees from English government agents.

In the first Pearce novel, By the Mast Divided, Pearce and several acquaintances are illegally pressed into naval service.  Having grown up listening to his father's philosophy about individual liberty, Pearce chafes against the tyranny of life aboard an English warship of the 18th century.  Pearce and his friends form a group called the Pelicans, named after the inn where they were captured.  Pearce promises to get the Pelicans their freedom.  Just before they can set foot on English soil and regain their freedom, they are transferred onto another English ship and sent back out to sea.

In this novel, Pearce continues to try and gain freedom for the Pelicans.  Pearce senses that the HMS Griffin is not a happy ship.  There are very few chances to capture enemy shipping and gain prize money.  Additionally, the ship is captained by a lieutenant who views the post as a dead end for his career.  A natural leader of men, Pearce begins to foment disobedience among the crew. Adding to Pearce's need to get off the ship is the knowledge that his father has been imprisoned in France and is in danger of the guillotine.

The title of the novel refers to a practice of unhappy British seamen.  They would sneak up to the main deck in the dark of the night. There they would  set a cannon ball rolling on the deck.  The sound of the shot rolling would be heard all through the ship.  And as the ship rocked in the night, the cannon ball would present a danger to anyone who happened to be on deck.

Expecting to be punished by the captain, Pearce is confused when his efforts are seemingly ignored.  When the Griffin returns to port, the captain solves his problem with Pearce in an unusual way.  Instead of punishment, he promotes Pearce to midshipman, and gives Pearce permission to leave the ship.  The sight of Pearce leaving the ship as an officer destroys Pearce's credibility with the Pelicans.

Pearce then travels to France to attempt to save his father from the guillotine.  Will he be able to save his father?  And what does he learn along the way about freedom, liberty, and leadership?

John Pearce is an interesting character.  He is a natural leader of men.  However, he often causes problems for himself due to his forthright manner.

This series extends to eight novels.  One can see the rise of Pearce from an impressed seaman, to an officer.  He will continue to try to get justice for his fellow Pelicans, and retribution against officers who have treated him unfairly.  I look forward to reading the next installment of the series.

A Shot Rolling Ship - John Pearce #2

By the Mast Divided - John Pearce #1

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