This is a salty sea-dog of a novel! I do enjoy a good adventure at sea from time to time; At Drake’s Command fits the bill nicely.
It’s set in the 1570s, during the reign of Elizabeth I, when Francis Drake was already a famed and feared captain. Our hero is a slightly less well-reknowned chap, Peregrine James, little more than a boy really, but in some big trouble. We meet him on his way to a flogging; he’s in a bit of bother all told. Still, it might just be his lucky day. Drake is also out and about in Plymouth, and Perry is not one to miss an opportunity. His boldness earns him a chance to sail with Drake, aboard the Pelican.
So Perry takes his chances upon the sea. His inexperience shows, he knows nothing about ships and is afflicted with horrendous seasickness. His boss is a talentless cook who takes a dislike to Perry, but Perry does find friends amongst the crew. He impresses Drake with his honesty, but it’s apparent early on that Perry’s integrity could be as much a hindrance as a help. His inability to look the other way could land him in some trouble – it certainly gains him some attention that is not wholly in his favour.
His outspoken nature ensures that he is ‘volunteered’ for a number of tasks. A visit to the infamous Dr Dee is nearly the end of poor Perry, as he is ambushed on the road. He escapes certain death, and learns a great deal about the nature of Drake’s second in command Thomas Doughty. He also gains some unsettling insights into his own future. Dee divines that he will be tested three times in his travels, once in the sand, once upon the sea, and once by the burning hills. Poor Perry indeed.
It’s fair to say that At Drake’s Command is not short on action. There’s plenty going on, and Perry is invariably at the centre of it all. He has the knack of being in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. He refuses to give up though, and his determination and luck see him through. Luck’s a fickle thing, it can run out at any time. I warn you now, the book ends on a monumental cliff-hanger that will leave you clamouring for the sequel.
There are some lovely expressions throughout the book, oaths and salutations that felt very right; a good ‘God’s blood’ sounds just lovely out of the mouth of a hardened sailor. I really enjoyed the story, and Perry is splendid character, fearless and exasperating in equal measure. For a hearty bit of derring-do upon the high seas I’d recommend this unhesitatingly.
My thanks to Temurlone Press and David Wesley Hill for kindly sending me a copy of the eBook, it was much appreciated.