Best known for her “The Dark Is Rising” magical fantasy series, in recent years Susan Cooper has been working in other genres. A few years ago she wrote a wonderful historical fantasy focusing on Shakespeare and his world called “King of Shadows.” This time the story revolves around Britain’s Admiral Nelson, famed Naval hero and victorious commander of battles such as Trafalgar against the French in 1805.
The book follows two tracks. In the present, Molly is an English girl who is having a hard time accepting a move to America after her mother remarries. Her unhappiness has everyone in the family worried, but a book she finds about Nelson provides an interesting diversion, and ultimately she talks her way into a visit back to England to visit her grandparents and the actual ship (H.M.S. Victory, hence the title) that he commanded.
The second track follows several years in the life of a boy in the first years of the 1800s, and this is where the story really comes alive, as he is pressed into service on board Victory, learns his way around life at sea, and eventually becomes an important part of the crew and witness to a historic section of Nelson’s drama. Sam, the boy’s, life is vividly told, full of convincing details that must have required lots of research, but the author makes all that invisible as we are drawn into his world.
The fantasy elements are tenuous in the book, only really coming out in the final climactic sequence as Molly and her grandfather visit the present-day Victory, and Molly is overcome with visions from the past. Afterward there is a very satisfying conclusion with an effective surprise twist. Overall, a well written book, though Sam’s story is easily the best part.
Recommended. Oh, and the cover of the British edition I have is printed on metallic foil, and looks much better than the scan above would suggest. The American edition, below, has a fine cover too.