Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: A Tainted Dawn by B.N. Peacock


August 1789. 

The Rights of Man. Liberty. Equality. Idealism. Patriotism.

A new age dawns.

 And yet, old hostilities persist: England and Spain are on the brink of war. France, allied by treaty with Spain, readies her warships. Three youths--the son of an English carpenter, the son of a naval captain, an the son of a French court tailor--meet in London, a chance encounter that entwines their lives thereafter. The English boys find themselves on the same frigate bound for the Caribbean. The Frenchman sails to Trinidad, where he meets an even more zealous Spanish revolutionary. As diplomats in Europe race to avoid conflict, war threatens to erupt in the Caribbean, with the three youths pitted against each other.

Will the dawn of the boys' young manhood remain bright with hope? Or will it become tainted with their countrymen's spilt blood?

Fireship Press | March 1, 2012 | 352 Pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

A Tainted Dawn, the first novel in a planned trilogy by author B.N. Peacock, is set in England, France, the Caribbean, and on the high seas during the late 18th century, a time of immense political turmoil in Europe.  The story follows the lives of three young men, Edward, son of a deceased Royal Navy Captain who wants nothing more than to pursue a career at sea, Jemmy, the son of a carpenter, and Louis, son of well-to-do French tailor who is caught up in revolutionary fervour.  While a brief yet volatile meeting between the three men at the outset of the novel seems to be of little import at the time in happens, as Edward, Jemmy and Louis' stories unfold it becomes apparent that their fortuitous encounter will impact each of their lives in ways none of them could have foreseen.  Edward and Jemmy's lives once again intersect when they find themselves bound for the Caribbean aboard the same Royal Navy vessel, Edward as an unrated midshipman and Jemmy as the ship's fiddler.  Louis, on the other hand, finds himself in Spanish controlled Trinidad, where he seeks to spread the ideas of liberty and equality to other Frenchman.  Back in Europe, France is in political and social upheaval, while Britain and Spain once again hover on the brink of war.   The Caribbean becomes a focal point for British and Spanish hostilities, with France's possessions favouring Spain.  As hostilities reach the breaking point, Edward and Louis' fates collide, and the two men face off against one another not only as enemy combatants, but also as mortal foes.

Alternating between Edward, Jemmy and Louis' stories, A Tainted Dawn paints a vivid portrait of English and French life during the late 18th century.  Although the son of a Royal Navy Captain and the grandson of an Admiral, life aboard ship is anything but how Edward imagined it would be.   With a Captain that hates him and fellow midshipman who despise him, Edward's life becomes hell.  It is Edward's struggles that truly make this novel come alive for the reader.  Peacock has a solid understanding of life aboard a Royal Navy vessel, and captures well the harsh treatment that could be meted out by a tyrannical captain and officers that followed his lead.  Edward proves to be a strong and resilient young man, not letting his horrible situation get the best of him and, when given the opportunity to flourish on a different ship under a respectable captain, shows that he more than has what it takes to serve.  While Edward is a well-drawn character and his story is engaging, those of Jemmy and Louis prove to be less so.  Louis, in particular, comes across as one dimensional, and his storyline falls rather flat as there seems to be nothing more to him then his desire to violently overthrow the established order as well as get his revenge on Edward.  Although Louis' antagonism towards Edward seems a little contrived considering their one interaction at the start of the book hardly seems the sort of thing to inspire life-long animosity, my interpretation is that Louis views Edward as the very embodiment of the aristocracy he so vehemently disdains.  While Louis isn't able to single-handedly bring down the aristocracy, he can bring down Edward and thus it is for this reason he becomes the focus of Louis' attention.  While Jemmy and Louis' stories are less engaging than that of Edward's and, as a result, I wasn't as interested in them, I did enjoy the chapters detailing political maneuverings taking place back in Europe as they help to illustrate the foundations of the rising tensions between England, Spain and France and how these were played out in the Caribbean.  

Overall, I found A Tainted Dawn to be an entertaining novel.  Although the book does contain the odd editorial error, I enjoyed Peacock's writing style, which, by capturing the vernacular of the age in which it is set, helps to create a strong sense of time.  I am very much looking forward to reading book two of The Great War trilogy. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review as part of the A Tainted Dawn Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour.

You can check out the tour schedule by clicking here.
Follow the tour on Twitter: #ATaintedDawnVirtualTour

About the Author

B. N. Peacock’s love of history started in childhood, hearing stories of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire from her immigrant grandparents.  They related accounts handed down from their grandparents about battlefields so drenched in blood that grass cut there afterwards oozed red liquid. Such tales entranced her. These references probably dated to the time of the Napoleonic Wars. No wonder she was drawn to this time period. 
In addition to history, she showed an equally early proclivity for writing, winning an honorable mention in a national READ magazine contest for short stories. The story was about history, of course, namely the battle of Bunker Hill as seen from the perspective of a British war correspondent.

The passion for writing and history continued throughout high school and undergraduate studies. She was active in her high school newspaper, eventually becoming its editor-in-chief. After graduation, she majored in Classical Studies (Greek and Latin) at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. In her junior year, life took one of those peculiar turns which sidetrack one.  A year abroad studying at Queen Mary College, University of London in England led to the discovery of another passion, travel. She returned and finished her degree at F&M, but now was lured from her previous interests in history and writing.

Her work continues on Book Two in The Great War series, tentatively to be called Army of Citizens, with new trips planned to England, France and Belgium.