A King’s Commander covers the year 1794 in the life and career of Dewey Lambdin’s naval hero, Alan Lewrie.
Lewrie finishes commissioning his new command, HMS Jester, the former French corvette Sans Culotte captured by Lewrie in HMS Cockerel, in Portsmouth in preparation for assignment to the Mediterranean under his patron Admiral Lord Samuel Hood. Enroute they run afoul of a small French squadron and are pursued, saved only by stumbling onto Admiral Howe’s fleet engaged in the Glorious First of June.
Major spoilers follow.
Lewrie evades his pursuers by closely skirting the French line of battle and finding safety amongst the British line. He is able to do the latter by flying the tricolor as a ruse de guerre, but in his inimitable style manages to bend the rules a bit. A faux pas which will come back to haunt him at the worst possible moment.
He continues on to Gibraltar, where he continues his liaison with Phoebe Aretino, and transports her and his dispatches to Corsica. There he joins the British fleet at the Allied siege of Calvi, though after his experiences at Yorktown and Toulon he avoids taking part in land action.
Serves as a courier for the fleet an on one run to Leghorn he renews his acquaintance with Captain Horatio Nelson. He has also been concerned about his wife because several weeks have elapsed without a letter. His imagination, fueled by his own infidelities takes a toll. Eventually he receives a letter from his brother-in-law, Gouvernour, that Caroline and children have been severely ill causing him a crisis of conscience.
HMS Jester is assigned to Nelson’s squadron which has a mission of destroying French supply lines leading from France into Northern Italy.
While raiding Lewrie uncovers evidence of a conspiracy to turn Genoa and other Italian states over the French Revolutionary forces. This brings him back into contact with the Foreign Office functionary, Zachariah Twigg, who is trying to unravel the plot. He also, unknowningly, runs afoul of his adversary from the Far East (The King’s Privateer) Guillaume Choundas. By way of Twigg, he learns that his father has been promoted to brigadier and his brother-in-law, Burgess, has been promoted to major in the East India Company’s army.
Though Twigg’s scheme to bring down Choundas and his operation doesn’t go off as planned, it does happen leaving Choundas to play the role of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
HMS Jester seems, at this point in my reading, to be a turning point for Lewrie. His close exposure to Nelson has not only changed his view of the man but has given him insight into Nelson’s leadership style. For the first time he comes into contact with a senior officer who is driven to produce results and is intolerant of petty intrigues and jealousies between his captains, the last Lewrie discovers rather roughly.
He also begins to have qualms about his urge to chase any attractive woman who crosses his path as he becomes increasingly conscious of the hurt it would cause Caroline and how that would in turn hurt him.
In HMS Jester we see an Alan Lewrie who is beginning to develop introspection as well as polish his naval skills. He gains an great appreciation for Nelson’s leadership style though he finds a lot about Nelson to be less than admirable much in the way he came to respect Lieutenant Lilycrop. He also learns of Nelson’s requirement that his captains cooperate selflessly with each other regardless of personality conflicts.
Like HMS Cockerel, though less so, the dialogue in a pidgin French is annoying and detracts from the flow of the novel. I’ll never again complain about novels in which all characters speak English fluently.