Review of Midshipman Graham and the Battle of Abukir

Midshipman Graham and the Battle of Abukir Midshipman Graham and the Battle of Abukir by James Boschert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With morale at an all-time low and in disarray following the defeat of Acre, the French army returns to Egypt. The Bedouins torment them from the desert, while the British navy harries them from the sea. The naval force is under the command of Commodore Sir Sidney Smith, who is determined to undermine Napoleon whenever possible. The alliance with the Ottoman Empire necessitates that Smith aid the forces under Mustafa Pasha, but first, he must put down a mutiny that threatens Nicosia. That is accomplished with great efficiency and one of the midshipmen, Duncan Graham, accompanies him ashore.

Duncan is a promising young officer, with a particular knack for leadership and navigation, but he is not the most senior midshipman. That honor goes to Tewksby, and the rivalry between these two escalates as the story progresses, particularly after Tewksby bullies the youngest, Minnow Standforth, whom Duncan has taken a liking to and protects when possible.

After the British rendezvous with Mustafa’s forces at Abukir, the Turks attack the fort. The resulting slaughter and mutilation of the French soldiers horrifies and stuns the British from the Commodore to the lowliest sailor. Smith is also certain that it’s only a matter of time before the French appear to exact their revenge. There is little Smith is able to do because the waters around the area aren’t deep enough to bring the warships close in and support the Turks. Nor are the Turks keen on heeding any advice – a fatal mistake in the battle to come.

Smith, who is in need of information, sends Captain John Williams – who speaks Arabic and easily moves through the streets of Cairo disguised as an Arab – ashore with men tasked to bring back fresh water. Among those in the boats are Duncan and Tewksby, who have agreed to settle their differences away from prying eyes. But noise from their personal battle alerts the French to their presence and Duncan finds himself alone and on the run without any idea of where to go. Williams also hears the commotion and returns to save Duncan. Together they make their way to Cairo, where they hope to reconnect with their ship.

This historical novel is a brutal depiction of war, one which is vividly portrayed and poignantly recounted in a letter written by a French officer. The Battle of Abukir is basically one segment of a story that also encompasses mutiny, fireships, white slavery, and a harem in a brothel. The last lends itself to a brief romance and some humorous escapades, although Duncan finds them more embarrassing and distasteful than funny. Some readers may find the title somewhat misleading, since Duncan is not the main protagonist and he is present in only about one third of the scenes. While we never fully connect with him, which is disappointing, Boschert is adept at interweaving different cultures, bringing the past to life in realistic ways, and presenting the events from various perspectives, thus giving us a well-rounded view of the conflagration.

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Published on June 18, 2018 13:10 Tags: british-navy, eypt, historical-fiction, napoleon
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