Thursday, August 4, 2011

DIAGNOSTIC: To Glory We Steer by Alexander Kent

Well, those who have been following me for awhile would know by now that I do love a nautical novel. The mixture of daring, history, and well-drawn characters that typify this group of books never ceases to satisfy and Alexander Kent is a prime example of this.

Alexander Kent is an interesting author because he certainly writes his novels with a mixture of brutality and compassion that makes it more similar to World War novels than other Napoleanic War novels. People die. They die gruesomely. They die slowly. They die glad they didn't go to the surgeon. They die under the surgeon's knife. They die when we expect that they might just be important enough to life. And they die suddenly. And Kent manages to make this really work for him. He never cuts down a character before we've gained enough satisfaction from the arc, but he certainly doesn't let them linger just because they were important beforehand.

What this means is that the reader can never pooh-pooh his threats. Each battlefield holds risk. Each threat holds a promise of pain to come. There are no guarantees. I was just lucky this time that my favourite characters (Allday, Ferguson, and, of course, Captain Richard Bolitho) all survived. Since they're being dragged along into the next book, I'll be sitting with bated breath, flicking pages, hope they make it through again this time.

And that's the beauty of it. If he didn't let the canonballs fall where they may, if he didn't let people drop like flies then his beautifully described scenes of utter devastation would become mere scenery. The Jeopardy (anticipated pain or loss) would cease to be effective. Now this doesn't mean that other genres need to treat all characters as expendable to be effective but in this sort of War Story, it certainly helps to build the stakes.

Hmm, what novel shoul I pull apart next? Or what technique should I examine?

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