|Under the broad heading of nautical fiction, there are tales of the Vikings, and tales of the industrial wars of the 20th century, but by far the most prolific and interesting stories deal with the Napoleonic era of 1790 – 1815 . Few other periods give an author enough scope to develop his character over many novels, and provide enough foes to enable frequent promotions. Curiously, novels about the lower decks, while available, rarely can carry on beyond a single volume, perhaps because the drama in a ship of war is concentrated in the hands of one man, and the rest of the ship’s community has little room for freely chosen action. CS Forester’s Hornblower series was long the standard for other authors to approach, and none surpassed it until Patrick O’Brian.In the non series category, there are more to choose from. Known mostly for his land based historical novels of 18th century colonial & revolutionary America, Kenneth Roberts‘ Lively Lady still holds up as a compelling story of privateers in the War of 1812. Rabble in Arms is the story of the greatest hero of the revolution – Benedict Arnold. Nautically this inland saga describes Arnold’s Fabian strategy of building a small fleet on Lake Champlain that fatally delayed Burgoyne’s advance from Canada to the Hudson Valley
The Aubrey series by Patrick O’Brian is easily the best nautical series ever written — far superior to Hornblower, Bolitho and the others. Read them in order, or out of sequence, each is a gem. O’Brian is to the nautical novel what Le Carre is to the spy genre – excelling in their chosen form, while creating literature. O’Brian combines detailed seamanship with intricate plotting. All the characters develop as the series progresses, and it’s worth starting the series over to see how much was foreshadowed in the early books.
C. Northcote Parkinson [of P’s Law], wrote several entertaining novels in this genre, including “Devil to Pay” and “Fireship”
Julian Stockwin‘s tales of Thomas Kydd show the times from the view of a pressed landsman, starting at the bottom. Unfortunately, they lack any compelling interest after the first volume; I started the second but couldn’t get very far into it.