S. Thomas Russell logo
HMS Themis   Corsica   Related Reading   Bio   Contact 
1) Under Enemy Colors   2) A Battle Won   3) A Ship of War (UK)/Take, Burn or Destroy (US)   4) Until the Sea Shall Give Up Her Dead
 
Under Enemy Colors (2007)

Hardcover Book Format Paperback
Putnam Adult Imprint Berkley Trade
978-0399154430ISBN 978-0425223628
496 pages Length 512 pages
9.25 x 6.25in Size 8.26 x 5.23in
06 Sep 2007 Release Date 04 Nov 2008
     
Audiobook FormatCD Unabridged
ImprintPutnam Audio
ISBN9780143142485
Length16 Hours; 13 CDs
Size5.74 x 5.23in
Release Date06 Sep 2007
 

Audiobook of Under Enemy Colors (2007)

 

MP3 icon
Five Minute MP3 Sample of the Audiobook for Under Enemy Colors (2007) from Putnam Audio

Under Enemy Colours (2007)

Hardcover Book Format Paperback
Michael Joseph Ltd Imprint Penguin Books Ltd
978-0718153410 ISBN 978-0141033143
496 pages Length 464 pages
23 x 15cm Size 129 x 198mm
06 Mar 2008 Release Date 5 Feb 2009

History and Fiction
The War of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars have been fodder for novelists from the outset, and novels set in the British Navy of that era have long been a species of their own.  If anyone can lay claim to having invented the type it would likely be Frederick Marryat (whose books appeared between 1829 and 1847).  His novels were immensely popular and surprisingly highly regarded (he counted Dickens among his fans).  Marryat actually served in the Royal Navy during the period so we must assume he got the details right, although with the caveat that "realism" as a literary movement was still some years in the future.

To set off into these same waters is to invite comparison if not accusations of imitation.  It can't be helped.  Reviews of the early Patrick O'Brian novels compared them to C S Forester's Hornblower books, and generally found Jack Aubrey came off second.

People always want to know, when reading a historical novel, what part is fact and what part fiction.  If the novel, as has been said, is about truth rather than fact, I think the question should be asked, "what part is fact and what part truth?".

As to the facts: in writing Under Enemy Colours I made every attempt to get the history right, to be accurate regarding the details and to recreate the atmosphere to the best of my ability.  In this I have been much aided by having spent most of my life by the water (I grew up in a house on a beach), and having sailed for thirty-five years.  I am not, however, a trained historian.  I am a novelist and I'm sure I have made some mistakes.  My apologies to the experts among you.

Almost all the main characters are fictional, with the exception of the First Secretary of the Navy, Philip Stephens (later Sir Philip).  Various historical personages are referred to but do not appear (Admiral Howe and Tom Paine, for instance).  None of the fictional characters are based on specific historical figures, though I must say that Captain Bourne was influenced by the many great frigate captains of the era, Henry Blackwood being my personal favourite.  All of the events could have happened and in some cases similar events did happen.  The characters in this book were so numerous that I reduced the size of the gunroom mess to essential members, which meant as important a figure as the purser was never seen.  If I have taken some liberties with historical detail it is in the court-martial where accuracy has been slightly compromised for dramatic reasons.  In every other way I have tried to make the book as authentic as available resources would allow.

The Themis is a fictional ship and conforms to no class of frigate, though she would have been similar to the Pallas class.  In fact, her existence in 1793 is slightly problematic as the first 18 pounder 32s (to the best of my knowledge) were not commissioned until 1794.  I thought Hart would have a 32 gun frigate because he had too much influence to be sent into a 12 pounder 28, but his detractors would have prevented him from being given a larger 36 or 38 gun frigate.  The 32 seemed to suit him perfectly, and I wanted a battery of 18 pound guns so that she could feasibly take on the larger French frigates.  Thus the Themis was slightly ahead of her time.

One of the things that always astonishes me when watching a film that involves a sailing ship is how the captain orders a course change and the helmsman simply spins the wheel and off they go in a new direction.  As anyone who sails knows, virtually every time you change course you trim your sails.  Although every sailor has experienced days of constant wind, outside the trades or the westerlies winds have a frustrating habit of varying, often in both direction and strength (in truth, they can do this in belts of "constant" winds too).  I remember a day when a friend and I set out to sail back to our home harbour—an easy day's sail.  We began the morning wearing bathing suits and sunglasses with a lovely fair wind from the NW.  Sixteen hours later, in a howling south east gale, we tied up at the dock wearing, beneath our foul weather gear, every piece of clothing we had aboard.  In between we'd had wind from all points of the compass.  We'd been becalmed, drenched in a deluge, and chilled to the bone.  We changed our headsail so often that I lost count and reefed and shook reefs out of the main over and over.  Imagine how much sail handling that would have meant aboard a square rigged ship?  You might have noticed, in this book, that, unless pursuing a change of wind, every time the course was altered, sails were trimmed and yards shifted.

So much for the facts.  As to the truth: well, everything that is not fact is my attempt to reach the truth.

For devotees of Laurence Sterne, yes, it's true, Griffiths' rant against the lack of originality in books is taken almost word for word from Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy  but in Griffiths' defence, the brilliantly comic Sterne stole it from Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.  Sterne's book, and his theft from Burton, would have been well known to readers of that time, though apparently none of Griffiths' supper companions caught the reference.

Anyone interested in reading more about the British Navy in this era is in luck as a little industry has sprung up publishing books to fill that need.  I highly recommend Brian Lavery's Nelson's Navy, John Harland's Seamanship in the Age of Sail, and the nautical dictionary entitled The Sailor's Word Book for starters.  If these three books do not satisfy your hunger, not to worry, there is a veritable feast of titles out there waiting for you. 

Will there be another novel following the career of Charles Saunders Hayden?  One is in the works.  And yes, Mr Barthe should reappear as well as Wickham, Griffiths, Hawthorne and various others from the cruise of the Themis.  Look for Mr Hayden's new vessel to heave into view sometime in the year 2009.

Oh, and by the way, the scientific name for the Sardinian Warbler is Sylvia melanocephalaScorbutus cani, the name given by Hayden in the novel, translates roughly as "scurvy dog".  Hayden, apparently, thought himself a wit.

S. Thomas Russell
Vancouver Island, February 2007

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to webmaster@sthomasrussell.com.

Copyright © 2007–2018 S. Thomas Russell All Rights Reserved Worldwide