(Blood, Steel, and Empire Book 1)
"More than one hundred years after Columbus blundered onto Hispaniola, the West Indies are held in Spain’s iron fist, and no threat to that absolute rule is tolerated. But such total control cannot last, not with the riches of an empire at stake, and French, English and Dutch all struggle to pry open the Spanish grip. But one threat will emerge as the most dangerous of all: the buccaneers.
Camped on the shore of Hispaniola, these half-wild men eke out a living hunting the island’s feral livestock. Among them, Jean-Baptiste LeBoeuf — hulking, silent, deadly with musket and blade — lives out his exile, content that no one in the hunters’ camp is at all curious about his past. But when a deadly hurricane sweeps through the Caribbean, it up-ends the buccaneers’ rough existence. And it leaves in its wake opportunity as well, a chance for a new life for LeBoeuf and his fellow hunters. This stroke of luck, however, is not all it seems, and when even greater violence is visited upon them they find themselves locked in battle with some of the most powerful and ruthless men in the Spanish Empire."
As a long-term devotee of James L Nelson (I started with his Biddlecomb and Brethren of the Coast books years ago) I leapt at this new title – and enjoyed the exciting adventure. The characters are believable because they are complex and not predictable. They act, do, think and say things that we as real life people act, do, think and say, (albeit we are not traitors, semi-feral buccaneers or hard-hearted pirates!)
I was immersed into the story from the first paragraph, turning pages on my Kindle into the early hours of the morning needing to turn the light out and go to sleep, but too engrossed to stop.
Chapters take you to different characters and locations, where different things along the same timeline are happening, so from the brewing hurricane about to hit the wild men buccaneer hunters of Hispaniola we are then in the awful confines of below deck aboard a Spanish ship, then ashore after the storm has blown itself out. From there we're aboard a privateer being chased by a Spaniard (only it's more complicated than that...) I didn't find this change of perspective or character POV at all jarring, such is the excitement of Mr Nelson's vivid writing and my absorption into the narrative, although some readers will find it confusing at first - just go with it.
The scenes of the hurricane were awesome (although that seems such a trite word, I cannot think of one more suitable). We get gales and strong winds here in the UK (they can be scary enough, thank you!) but I have never experienced a Caribbean hurricane. The immaculate writing and description on those pages brought the force of such a storm truly alive. The wind tearing up trees or the crew and the ship battling to remain afloat...? Oh my goodness, this was fictional reality as powerful as watching any movie. I’d go as far as saying if you are susceptible to seasickness - keep a bowl handy! And then we were taken to a slightly different area of the Caribbean where there came a sea chase by ships and crews who had weathered the storm. No spoilers but, if you want to know how to handle a ship in a tight spot, and don't particularly care about breathing while reading...
As the reader you are there while the characters are hunting wild pigs, there, reloading your musket as the Spanish prepare to ride you down... there aboard ship, clinging to a stay for dear life... there with the ship flying up into the wind with the crew preparing to tack or wear ship... And that’s only the first few chapters!
As with all Mr Nelson’s books the detail and accuracy is meticulous. I write my own nautical adventure series, but how I wish I could produce an end result as superbly engrossing as Mr Nelson so apparently effortlessly does. (Although unlike me, he does have the advantage of being a real seaman! Mr Nelson sailed aboard the replica HMS Rose – now better known as Surprise, so he knows his ropes. Literally. I've never sailed in anything larger than a small pleasure dinghy.)
I do have one criticism, which many readers/writers, even editors, do not always pick up on. Eyes running around! 'He ran his eyes over the deck' or 'he ran his eyes over her face''... We say this all the time, but written down it conjures a picture of uncontrollable eyeballs. (Ditto 'dropped' his/her head/leg/arm). To use these expressions very occasionally is ignorable, but when they crop up too often it can get noticeable. There were also a few typos, mostly words that would have been easily overlooked. These two things did not spoil the story, but I did notice them.
Aside from that, this novel is how buccaneers, privateers and pirates really were; how life in the West Indies in the 1600s really was. There is violence, treachery, greed and suspense in this novel, as you would expect for such a turbulent period, the years when Spain, England, Portugal, France and the Netherlands were determined to hold the wealth of the Americas and the Caribbean for themselves (and fought each other in order to do so). This was the era preceding the 'Golden' age of piracy, when the world began to change for these wild, rough buccaneer men.
Mr Nelson recreates it very well indeed.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds