In May 1787 11 ships loaded with supplies, Royal Marines, and convicts sailed out of Portsmouth harbor, beginning the arduous voyage to establish a British colony at Botany Bay, Australia. This novel charts the politics, preparation, and six-month voyage through the very different eyes of the expedition's commander, Arthur Phillip, and former soldier, now convict, Joe Cribb. Unfortunately, minute attention to linguistic, nautical, and historical detail (not always accurate) slows the action and impedes characterization, and leaves the reader historically enlightened but curiously detached. One hopes that subsequent volumesheralded by an awkwardly abrupt endingwill be more interesting than this. More for naval history buffs than for general readers. Cynthia Johnson Whealler, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, Mass.
Historical novels of such fiery vigor and flesh-and-blood authenticity as this first volume, in what is promised as a huge Australian saga, are a rarity. The year is 1785. A group of condemned criminals, lying in chains in London's Newgate jail, are saved from the gallows at the last moment and thrust into the holds of half-rotted naval ships bound, as only the captain of the convoy knows, for Australia. The fastidious, prickly and courageous Captain Phillip must transport his explosive human cargo to the new land in a desperate race against the French, equally intent on colonizing the Pacific, and risk a course through perilous southern seas to win it. Among the most memorable characters in a story that seethes with action are wily Joe Cribb, veteran and psychological victim of the American War of Independence; indomitable Kitty Brandon, one-time actress, court favorite and mistress of General Burgoyne, now a convicted murderer; a naive but determined chaplain; and quack doctor Abe Levi, a shrewd and experience-toughened Polish Jew. They tumble through a dramatic narrative in which fact and fiction fuse in totally credible fashion. Talbot, an Australian, has previously written thrillers under a pseudonym. (June 2)