After an eight-year separation and a tumultuous reunion, Anne Elliot marries the dashing Captain Frederick Wentworth. The pair looks forward to an uneventful honeymoon cruise aboard the HMS Laconia. But the bride and groom find the seas of matrimony rough. Napoleon has escaped from Elba, the country is at war with France again, and the Admiralty imposes on Wentworth a mysterious passenger on a dangerous secret mission. The good captain is caught between duty to his country and love for his wife. All eyes are trained for enemies without, but the greatest menace may already be on board…
Continuing his Jane Austen’s Fighting Men series, Jack Caldwell brings us Persuaded to Sail, a sequel to Miss Austen’s Persuasion. In preparation for this novel and the review, I re-watched the 1995 and 2007 cinematic productions of Persuasion and also read the last two chapters of the source material (which of course includes the epitome of love letters, from Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot). I love these characters, and I also highly enjoy naval adventures. I have a healthy collection of novels by Patrick O’Brian, C.S. Forester and R.H. Dana, Jr. in my personal library. As many have speculated on the long-term fate of Anne Elliot Wentworth due to Austen’s interesting final sentence regarding her, all of these factors together added to my anticipation for Persuaded to Sail. Any number of interesting narratives could spring from Austen’s closing words: “She gloried in being a sailor’s wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.”
|In the Hartness Library: Naval Titles by O'Brian, Forester and Dana|
In this imagining of the Wentworths’ first months together as newlyweds, it becomes abundantly clear that Caldwell has done his homework in regard to naval history and procedure. Not only is there a helpful glossary included with the book, but much time is spent within the narrative to thoroughly construct the maritime surroundings of Anne, Captain Wentworth and his sailors. Unfortunately, the chapters tend to get overwhelmed with the volume of detail, and the story becomes burdened with numerous passages of exposition, wherein Anne is learning her way around the Laconia and gaining information so that she could not only function as Wentworth’s wife, but almost as a member of the crew. I am sure this level of detail has been presented in the spirit of great naval authors such as O’Brian and Forester, but given the pattern that Caldwell set with his previous works in this series, it seems inconsistent with his style. I found myself waiting for the story to truly engage for a large portion of the novel.
That said, once the story truly began to progress, I did enjoy the narrative that was put forth for Anne and Frederick. Given their surroundings and the era in which they lived, I found it realistic and at times compelling. One particularly interesting episode involved an almost impossible leadership choice for the Captain. I also liked how Anne’s relationship with the men of the Laconia grew over time, as she became almost like a Queen Mother to them. There is also somewhat of a bookended story line regarding Margaret Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility that pops up near the beginning and conclusion of the story which I found amusing, but it almost seemed as if it was tacked on at a late date in the writing process.
I enjoyed The Three Colonels in 2012 and The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel in 2016, so I’m disappointed to report that this third volume in the series doesn’t quite live up to the same level of quality of those that came before it. The story was weighed down by more naval exposition than necessary for a substantial portion of the beginning of the novel, and the general flow of the writing was not as strong. I do applaud Mr. Caldwell’s scholarship in his knowledge of naval terms and traditions, but I wish more time had been spent in crafting the story itself. This sequel to Persuasion is a realistic portrait of what indeed may have transpired in the lives of the Wentworths, but the way in which it was offered could have been framed and presented in a more skillful manner. Jack Caldwell has been an enjoyable author for years, and I’m sure there will be more titles of his that I will read and enjoy. It just seems that in this case, Persuaded to Sail is not my favorite work of his.
About the Author
Jack Caldwell, born and raised in the Bayou County of Louisiana, is an author, amateur historian, professional economic developer, playwright, and like many Cajuns, a darn good cook.
His nickname -- The Cajun Cheesehead -- came from his devotion to his two favorite NFL teams: the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers. (Every now and then, Jack has to play the DVD again to make sure the Saints really won in 2010.)
Always a history buff, Jack found and fell in love with Jane Austen in his twenties, struck by her innate understanding of the human condition. Jack uses his work to share his knowledge of history. Through his characters, he hopes the reader gains a better understanding of what went on before, developing an appreciation for our ancestors' trials and tribulations.
When not writing or traveling with Barbara, Jack attempts to play golf. A devout convert to Roman Catholicism, Jack is married with three grown sons.
Jack's blog postings -- The Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles -- appear regularly at Austen Variations. Follow Jack on Facebook and on Twitter @JCaldwell25