A Sea Unto Itself
© 2013 Jay Worrall
Amid the bloodshed and chaos of the French revolution, a singular figure has emerged: General Napoleon Bonaparte, a minor Corsican nobleman who distinguished himself on the field of battle and now has an increasing command over France’s destiny. Now he has invaded Egypt, and his object can only be to compromise British interests in India. Captain Charles Edgemont is commissioned to rendezvous with an agent of the Crown and deliver him safely abroad, a mission which will take months, and is made far more difficult by Edgement’s new ship, Cassandra. Her previous captain was both a hard and neglectful disciplinarian, frequently abusing his crew but failing to maintain their training, and it will take every bit of Edgemont’s charisma and creativity to put things to rights. The sequel to Any Approaching Enemy, A Sea Unto Itself is happily without some of the more improbable aspects of that book’s plot, and deftly combines maneuvers at sea with espionage.
It’s been over a year I read Any Approaching Enemy, but I remembered it fondly enough to try its sequel. Captain Edgemont is unusual among most military protagonists in that he’s married to a pacifist, a Quaker woman who does a poor job of hiding her severe disapproval of his chosen occupation. Perhaps his frequent arguments with the Mrs. give him practice in independent reasoning and debate, for he engages in both throughout A Sea Unto Itself: not only does he have to manage a rebellious and shoddily-prepared crew, but once he’s in the middle of things, he’s pitted against the local admiral – who dosn’t take Edgemont’s spy mission, or the French threat, seriously in the least. Edgemont has to commit to his reasoning and conscience and keep Cassandra ahead of an admiralty ship bearing orders for his arrest. The African setting adds its own interest, especially in this time when varied European powers were active in different parts of the east African coast and the nearby islands: Cassandra pays visit to a Genoease colony, for instance, where an Italian femme fatale (sorry, donna fatale) plays an important part in distracting or trying to distract Edgemont from his mission.
A Sea Unto Itself is perfectly enjoyable as a light naval read: not Hornblower quality, but it serves well enough.