Pope, Dudley. Ramage & the Renegades.

London: Secker & Warburg, 1981.

In 1801, after eight years of war against Britain, Napoleon Bonaparte negotiated a peace — the Treaty of Amiens — by which the naïve, incompetent new administration in London (under Addington, Pitt having resigned) gave up most of what the Royal Navy had gained and began cheerfully dismantling the navy itself. And Bonaparte thereby gained time to restock his warehouses and rebuild his own forces before returning to war. Every author of a Napoleonic Wars naval series has had to deal with this interval, to decide how his protagonist will respond.

In the present case, will Capt. Lord Nicholas Ramage “go on the beach” when three-quarters of the wartime establishment is laid up in ordinary? He certainly doesn’t need the income, but making war at sea is his business — and, like most of his colleagues in the officer corps, he knows perfectly well that the peace is only a temporary catching of breath. Actually, he wants to keep his first-rate crew and collection of officers together for that eventuality, so he pulls a few strings and gets himself and his refitted frigate, Calypso, sent off to map and chart a small uninhabited island off the coast of Brazil and claim it for Great Britain. He takes along a party of surveyors and draftsmen and an artist, as well as a horticulturalist who will seed the island with self-sustaining crops for the benefit of future visitors. It’s almost like a holiday, especially since they no longer have to go to quarters at the sight of every unknown sail. And when they arrive at Trinidade, they find an anchored British privateer and her five prizes — including an East Indiaman as well as French and Dutch merchantmen. The privateersmen have reacted to the peace by turning pirate. All the merchant crews are interned under guard on the island while their paying passengers are being held as hostages on their ships — knowing full well the privateersmen will kill them rather than bothering to arrange ransoms. How is Ramage going to deal with the privateers, liberate the captured crews, and prevent the murder of the hostages? Being Ramage, you know he’s going to think of a way.

Meanwhile, Ramage’s personal affairs are sorting themselves out as well. He’s realist enough to understand that his previous ardor for the Gianna, the Italian marchesa he rescued from Bonaparte’s pursuing cavalry in the first book in the series, has gradually cooled to simply a high regard. As the heir to an earldom (and, of course, a Protestant), he’s never going to be able to marry her. She has the duty to return to her little kingdom, not stay comfortably in Cornwall — and her subjects would never accept Ramage as her consort in any case. Anyway, Gianna has taken advantage of the peace to return to Italy on her own, even though Bonaparte is keeping the peninsula for himself, and even though his secret police are extremely unlikely to allow her to attempt to take up the reins of her government again. Other plot points aside, Pope is opening the way for Ramage to develop a relationship with some other woman that has more of a future in it — and just such a well-born candidate turns up (surprise, surprise) among the passengers of the Indiaman. This, the twelfth episode, is one of the better in the series so far — lots of well-described action, a few hair-raising moments, a leavening of sometimes grim humor, and lots of humanity among the characters we’ve come to know so well.

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