Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Captain Blackwell's Prize by V.E. Ulett


A romantic adventure from the days of wooden ships and iron men, Captain Blackwell’s Prize is a story of honor, duty, social class and the bond of sensual love.

 A small, audacious British frigate does battle against a large but ungainly Spanish ship. 

British Captain James Blackwell intercepts the Spanish La Trinidad, outmaneuvers and outguns the treasure ship and boards her. Fighting alongside the Spanish captain, sword in hand, is a beautiful woman. The battle is quickly over. The Spanish captain is killed in the fray and his ship damaged beyond repair. Its survivors and treasure are taken aboard the British ship, Inconstant.


Captain Blackwell’s Prize features sword fights and sea battles alongside the manners, ideas, and prejudices of men and women from the time of Nelson and Napoleon.

Fireship Press | June 20, 2012 | 274p

My Review

4 Stars

Set on the high seas around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, V.E. Ulett's debut novel, Captain Blackwell's Prize, is quick-paced romantic adventure.  Set against the backdrop of English-Spanish conflict and a rising threat from France, the focus of this novel is on Captain James Blackwell of the Royal Navy, and Mercedes de Aragon, a young women taken aboard Blackwell's vessel, Inconstant, after the Spanish ship she was sailing on was captured by the British.  While Captain Blackwell and Mercedes quickly become lovers, their relationship must overcome a number of obstacles before it can truly flourish.

While I am by no means an expert on nautical fiction, I have read enough within the genre to know the basics of ships and life at sea during the Age of Sail.  This novel clearly illustrates that Ulett has a strong understanding of and appreciation for all things nautical, as well as of the language, culture and societal expectations of the early 19th century.  The nautical foundations of this story help to make it an appealing read, but it is the novel's characters that truly make it come alive.  Mercedes is characterized as a strong, intelligent and highly capable young woman, one who will undertake whatever necessary to ensure her survival.  Although I initially had a hard time accepting Captain Blackwell as a romantic lead, he grew on me as the story progressed and I ultimately found him worthy of Mercedes.  The novel's secondary characters, including Captain Blackwell's brother, Francis, a diplomat travelling on Inconstant, are easy to like and help to enhance the story.   I particularly enjoyed the few scenes involving young Jack Verson, the son of one of Inconstant's lieutenants.   The only issue I had with the novel was the brief appearance of Jane Austen.  Given two of her brother's were Royal Navy officers during the period in which this book is set, Austen's appearance in and of itself isn't out of place.  My issue, however, was with Ulett's portrayal of Jane and the nature of her relationship with Captain Blackwell, which I didn't like and isn't authentic.  As such, I think the story would have been better served with a fictional character being used in Jane's place. 

As I'm not a fan of romance novels, I was a little worried about the romantic aspect of this book prior to starting it.  I needn't have worried.  Even though the book does feature a few sex scenes they don't detract from the story or serve as a central feature.  As a result, I think Captain Blackwell's Prize will appeal both to readers who enjoy nautical historical fiction and those who simply enjoy a good romance or adventure no matter the setting.       

Note: I received a copy of this novel as part of the V.E. Ulett's Virtual Book Tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

To check out other reviews for this novel and the tour schedule click here
Twitter hashtag: CaptainBlackwellsPrizeVirtualTour

About the Author

A long time resident of California, V.E. Ulett is an avid reader as well as writer of historical fiction.  V.E. is a member of the National Books Critics Circle and an active member and reviewer for the Historical Novel Society.  Eighteenth and nineteenth century journals and letters inspired the writing of CAPTAIN BLACKWELL'S PRIZE. The sequel takes Captain Blackwell and Mercedes to the far side of the world, on a new personal, and cultural adventure.