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Seth Hunter – The Time of Terror

May 21, 2010

LibraryThing Early Reviewers52. The Time of Terror by Seth Hunter (2008)
Nathan Peake, Book 1

Length: 392 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 29 April 2010
Finished: 09 May 2010

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers
Why do I have it? I requested it because of my acknowledged and unexplained love for the Age of Sail (or, as my friends would put it, my “thing for boys on boats,” or “Sometimes you’re just in the mood for the British Navy.”)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 05 April 2010.

Going to Paris?
Maybe don’t plan a visit
to the guillotine.

Summary: Nathan Peake is a captain in the British Navy in 1793, whiling away his time chasing down smugglers in the Channel. After one such mission leads to his ship being fired upon by French guns – an act of war – he is summoned to the Admiralty, where he receives a new mission: he must pose as an American captain, aboard a newly-captured American ship, and deliver a mysterious cargo to the French, as well as various communiques to British agents in Paris. Peake agrees readily enough, but soon finds himself smack in the middle of French politics – not a safe place to be during the middle of the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution… particularly not for a British spy.

Review: I really enjoy historical fiction as a genre because, amongst other things, it teaches me about historical times, people, and places in a way that’s more interesting and more memorable than the lists of names and dates we get in school. In the case of The Time of Terror, however, I felt like the story really never gave me an “in,” instead expecting me to know the history already. My knowledge of the French Revolution is spotty at best, though, so for much of the book I was mildly lost: understanding what was happening in the story, but being mostly ignorant of the broader context. Sp many key players of the Terror show up so briefly that they never really emerge as characters, and instead of bringing the history to life, it just started to feel like one of the name-dropping history lessons from high school. Perhaps it’s because fictionalizing events in the lives of well-known historical figures is difficult; perhaps it’s because Nathan doesn’t really interact with important political figures more than obliquely. Whatever the reason, I felt like this book relied on a background that I didn’t have.

There were also a few subplots that didn’t quite connect for me; the romance in particular felt a bit rushed and thus not entirely credible. That’s not to say that there wasn’t anything enjoyable about this book. Nathan’s a sympathetic protagonist, and individual scenes and vignettes were quite good: Hunter’s good at evoking a setting, has a good ear for dialogue, and can write exciting naval battles. (I do love me some boys on boats, although this book didn’t have as many as the cover had led me to believe.) I just wish he’d focused more on the things he was good at, and less on trying to encapsulate the entirety of the Terror into a single novel. There’s definitely the potential there, and I’d be interested to read Hunter’s next book to see how he develops the story, but this one didn’t manage to hit everything it was aiming for with me. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Readers with a stronger background in French history may have better luck with it than I did; for me, while it certainly had potential, it wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It was a time when you could not leave home and know that you would return alive and in one piece.

Cover Thoughts: It definitely promises more boys on boats than there actually are, but otherwise, it’s fine.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 17: “As to his social background, Nathan had overheard the two midshipmen whispering that he was the by-blow of a Guernsey seigneur, which might have been a myth he had perpetrated to win their respect for they were both the sons of gentlemen, of course, and deplorable snobs who would honour the bastard of a noble far more than the legitimate spawn of a tradesman or less.” – a lord, esp. a feudal lord.
  • p. 54: “It had an ominous ring, as if she had been waiting for him all these years, a raddled corpse rising from the sea – or his own past.” – a red variety of ocher, used for marking sheep, coloring, etc.
  • p. 136: “Every neighbourhood, every Faubourg, a labyrinthine fortress with a core of agitators who could muster thousands of insurgents with the ringing of the tocsin.” – a signal, esp. of alarm, sounded on a bell or bells.
  • p. 193: “The anchors secured with double ring and shank painters.” – a rope, usually at the bow, for fastening a boat to a ship, stake, etc.
  • p. 293: “They appeared to be loaded and fired in much the same way as regular cannon, the only puzzling feature to Nathan being a large screw which pierced the ring at the end of the breech and was used for elevating and depressing the barrel instead of wedges or quoins.” – a wedge-shaped piece of wood, stone, or other material, used for any of various purposes.
  • p. 333: “The more who stretched the more the gyves dug into his wrists.” – a shackle, esp. for the leg.
8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2010 9:22 am

    I would be totally lost with this book since I’d be expected to know the history already. I suspect it’s not for me.

    • June 9, 2010 11:02 am

      bermudaonion – Well, it’s still understandable without knowing much of the history, but I’m sure some of the significance of a lot of the events was lost on me.

  2. May 21, 2010 4:24 pm

    I like historical fiction too. So I was glad that I found your review. But after reading your review I’m not sure whether I would like to read The Time of Terror or not.
    Maybe book two and three of the series – The Tide of War, The Price of Glory – are different.

    • June 9, 2010 11:01 am

      edifanob – I’d definitely be willing to read the second book, if for nothing else than to see where Hunter takes the story.

  3. May 25, 2010 8:52 pm

    “Boys on boats” sounds much more appealing to me than “Royal Navy”, because I can’t help thinking “rum, sodomy, and the lash” when I hear the words “Royal Navy”.

    For me with historical fiction, I’ve more found that it tends to cement already-learned history in my mind, than to instill new knowledge in me. Or if I am reading a book set in a place and time period I do not know well, and I spend some time reading about that bit of history, I am more likely to remember it later if the book is a good one. Having a book with characters makes more connections for my memory to latch onto when it takes in history information.

    • June 9, 2010 11:04 am

      Jenny – I wonder if there’s a difference between historical fiction that features famous people as main characters, and historical fiction that features non-famous people on the periphery of famous events? I think the first is better for instilling new knowledge, since the characters come to life, and the second is better for cementing history I already know.

  4. May 29, 2010 1:37 pm

    This does look good. Sorry you didn’t love it!

    • June 9, 2010 11:05 am

      Kailana – Yeah, so am I. You might have better luck with it, though.

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