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January, 2019
Halfhyde and the Fleet Review, book no.16 The Halfhyde Adventures, by Philip McCutchan

The Black Ring (HC) Book 2:The Nicholas Fallon Sea Novels

"Bill Westbrook’s follow-up to The Bermuda Privateer is buoyed by details of history and seamanship that will delight any fan of saltwater yarns and explosive action.”—Broos Campbell author of the Matty Graves Novels

That dashing British privateer Nicholas Fallon is back again, helping himself to a fistful of mayhem in The Black Ring.

The year is 1798. The African slave trade is in brutal flower, and the great powers are fighting for control of the Caribbean’s immensely profitable sugar plantations.

Nico, meanwhile, has been trying his damnedest to become a salt merchant under Ezra Somers, father of the beautiful Elinore. But when an urgent request arrives from Admiral Davies of the Leeward Island Station, Ezra and Elinore give Nico their blessing to head off in search of plunder and adventure. Sailing aboard the American-built topsail schooner Rascal, Nico takes on the job of slipping a secret agent into Cuba, but soon becomes entangled in numerous dangers—or opportunities, as he likes to call them. There’s an escaped slave trying to burn every stalk of sugarcane in Cuba, a pirate running riot with a flotilla of “little wolves,” an admiral’s lady that needs a bit of rescuing, and a French plot that threatens Britain’s very presence in the islands.

320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781590137680
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List Price: $22.95
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From Historical Novel Review:

The Black Ring (Nicholas Fallon Sea Novels) WRITTEN BY WILLIAM WESTBROOK REVIEW BY JEFF WESTERHOFF

The Caribbean in 1798 is rich in sugar, salt, and coffee while Great Britain, France, and Spain vie for control of the trade. Captain Nicholas Fallon, aboard his schooner Rascal, sets sail from Bermuda for Cuba to drop off a senior British intelligence officer to determine if a slave rebellion would be possible on the island, where slavery is widespread. Upon secretly landing in Cuba, Captain Fallon soon learns about the cruelty of this institution. Captain Fallon must also face the pirate known as “The Holy One” who deals in the slave trade while attacking ships in the Caribbean, searching for slaves to trade on the islands.

The background to this exciting nautical tale, the second in a series, consists primarily of the slave trade, slave rebellions, and its effect on the economy of the Caribbean. I enjoyed the first book, The Bermuda Privateer, and found this novel continued to provide a thorough and worthwhile read. The author’s novels are character-driven and don’t use many nautical terms that are understood only by those who sail. He brings the characters and their interactions to life with realistic dialogue. The action is solidly paced and engaging throughout. The period detail blends the historical facts with the fictional characters.

From "Pirates and Privateers" website:

Keeping accounts and working in the office are not Nicholas Fallon’s cup of tea and after weeks of such busy work, he’s more than ready to return to the sea. His partner, Ezra Somers, founded the Somers Salt Company of Bermuda; his daughter, Elinore, is the love of Nicholas’s life. When a message requests Nicholas’s presence on Antigua, both are wise enough to know that the sea is as vital to him as blood. With his schooner refitted, he collects his crew, including his childhood friend, Beauty, and his coxswain, Aja. Beauty lost her leg in an accident many years ago, but she is the bravest person Nicholas knows and a superb second in command. Aja has grown from the scared, mute boy left to die on a sinking slave ship, to a vital member of the crew with hopes of one day captaining his own vessel.

Upon their arrival at English Harbor in Antigua, Nicholas joins Rear Admiral Harry Davies aboard his flagship. Although Nicholas is not part of the Royal Navy, he has, in the past, assisted them and the two men are good friends. This time Davies asks Nicholas to ferry a senior intelligence agent to Cuba, where the man can quietly slip ashore to discover whether there is sufficient dissatisfaction with Spain to warrant British help in undermining Spanish control of the island. As a privateer, Nicholas can go where the Royal Navy cannot. On a more personal note, Davies requests that Nicholas seek out a woman whom Davies cares for in Matanzas.

Always on the lookout for opportunities to take advantage of his letter of marque, Nicholas’s curiosity is aroused when they sight strange sails. The ship far surpasses his schooner in armament and men, but she runs up both a Spanish flag and a white one before asking Nicholas to come aboard. Since England and Spain are at war, it could be a trap, yet he accepts the offer. He doesn’t buy the captain’s story, and his doubt is confirmed when a passenger slips him a note saying they are prisoners. Still, there is more to the situation than the Spanish captain admits, which triggers one of Nicholas’s out-of-the-box ideas that results in the capture of the enemy vessel.

Nicholas and his crew also cross paths with pirates led by a ruthless defrocked priest known as the “Holy One.” They intercept secret communications between France and Spain that necessitate a visit to Haiti to warn Touissant Louverture. Then there are the captured runaway slaves and Davies’ friend at Matanzas who are in need of rescuing before they face a firing squad. Beauty sustains a wound from which she may not recover, and news of her condition results in a deadly encounter with the Holy One for Ezra and Elinore. Interspersed throughout the book are italicized chapters that recount the tale of a captured African warrior who is sold into slavery. These tell the story of Young David, who eventually crosses paths with Nicholas and Aja. All are vividly drawn, such as the portrayal of the slaver’s battle with pirates that unfolds from David’s perspective while he and the other slaves are chained below decks. Several are gut-wrenching depictions of the Middle Passage and life as a slave on Cuba. Yet entwined within them is an everlasting hope to reclaim his freedom, no matter the cost.

The myriad subplots are intriguing and expertly intertwined with the central part of the story. From the first page to last, Westbrook snares the reader and doesn’t let go in this enthralling second Nicholas Fallon novel that surpasses the first. Spiced with gifted ingenuity and daring escapades, this nautical adventure is not to be missed.

Review Copyrighted ©2018 Cindy Vallar



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