When I was a kid, my father would read to me to help me fall asleep. Most of the books he read to me were books he had inherited or owned when he was young. As luck would have it, almost all of these were sea-faring adventures like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Dead Man’s Chest and Treasure Island. I recalled those moments with quite a bit of nostalgia while finishing Winds of Marque, which consistently evokes the danger, the promise and the daring of life on the open ocean. However, one detail in this new novel by Bennett R. Coles would have blown my 9-year-old brain: It’s in space?!
Commissioned to capture enemy vessels, the spaceship HMS Daring sets sail under a false flag to pursue and engage pirate ships. Liam Blackwood, the ship’s second-in-command, leads a crew of “sailors” in undercover missions meant to locate the pirates. When a series of dangerous moves from his new captain threaten the safety and morale of the crew, he must uncover the truth about his captain and keep the mission on course before pirates strike out from a hidden base.
Coles cleverly preserves many of the naval traditions that have become synonymous with historical seafaring adventure stories. The leadership structure aboard Daring, the divisions between the sailors and the officers, and even the commands shouted out in the middle of battle feel ripped from the pages of a Patrick O’Brien novel. In fact, the environment of the ship is perhaps Coles’ greatest achievement in Winds of Marque. A former officer in the Royal Canadian Navy himself, it’s no surprise that Coles bring that knowledge into this fictional world.
Winds of Marque maintains a brisk pace from the get-go. Action scenes are crisp and tense, with special attention paid to the visceral feeling of hand-to-hand combat and firing cannon batteries. Because of Daring’s secret mission, the stakes are high at every encounter and as the adventure becomes more and more desperate, each skirmish reinforces what failure means for everyone. Adding to this tension is the interplay between a set of colorful characters, particularly the officers. I loved the tenacious Chief Sky, leader of the boarding party, and Virtue, the talented new quartermaster. Coles achieves a real sense of camaraderie amongst his characters and I found myself wanting to see more banter even before the book was over.
I might not have had my dad drowsily reading Winds of Marque to me, but I did feel that same sense of adventure I felt as a kid. And though it isn’t set in the chilly waters of the northern Atlantic, Winds of Marque takes you to a place just as full of danger and intrigue.