Review: NAPOLEON’S RUN by Jonathan Spencer, published by Canelo

Best historical of the year so far?

ISBN – (e-book) 978 1 80032 073 4 priced £1.99

For a man like me, raised on the classic Hornblower series, and later the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brien, there is a curious inevitability of every so often picking up a book and discovering it is, yawn, yet again a story about the British navy at the time of Waterloo. There really cannot be too much more to say about that period and those men, can there? 

And the invention. I mean, who would think that such adventures could be even remotely believable? Little ships capturing vastly larger vessels, raiding French coastal defences and towns, spying, being captured and escaping …

Except the stories are all true enough. They are, many of them, based on the exploits of a particularly daring and audacious man, Captain Lord Cochrane of the British navy – who also became Vice Admiral of Chile and First Admiral of Brazil. 

Well, here is another of these Napoleonic tales – and it is not one I can yawn at. It was, from the first page, gripping. 

Jonathan Spencer is an authority of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, but he is not a writer who lets the history get in the way of a good story. And this is a very good story.

It begins with the worst day of Marine Lt William John Hazzard’s life, when he has been sent into the interior of South Africa to discover who has been responsible for plundering farms and murdering the inhabitants. To his horror he discovers the guilty party is Harry Race, his own cousin, with whom he had grown up. He must catch Harry when he sees him murder a Boer family. But then he learns that Harry’s murders were part of a plan to destabilise the Cape, and in a rage he resigns. 

In case you were worried that this might be a big giveaway, this is only the first nine pages!

From there Hazzard is thrust into politics, spying and the approaching war. It is very accurate in terms of period detail, and Spencer seems to have a very good understanding of weaponry, fighting and the navy itself. 

The main thrust of the story is Hazzard’s search for the woman he loves. She had left home to go on the grand tour, but picked an unfortunate period to do so, as Napoleon rampaged across Europe and down Italy. And now she has disappeared. But meanwhile the French have begun victualling a vast fleet. The Admiralty is desperate to know where this force is to be sent, and must send a reliable man to discover its destination. 

Hazzard is given his own small force, and instructed to do all he might to delay the fleet, and if possible learn where the ships are to be deployed. 

Again, the idea of one man against an armada is the stuff of movies, but it was also what happened in the Napoleonic wars. 

This book has a rich cast of characters who will delight, enthrall and keep you turning the pages to the very end. And then, like me, you will want to have the second in the series immediately. A brilliant, thrilling read, with a new – and very believable – hero. Not to mention Cookie and the other men under his command. 

So far this is my favourite historical novel of the year.

If you would like to see a copy, use this link:

2 Responses to “Review: NAPOLEON’S RUN by Jonathan Spencer, published by Canelo”
  1. Dan D says:

    Sounds interesting! I’m very much into naval historical fiction (as well as non-fiction) so will have to check this out. I’m a big O’Brien fan (in fact, it’s probably time to re-read him) – there is also a good (short, 4-book) series by S. Thomas Russell that is late 18th-century navy-based. But currently I am in the middle of my COVID isolation project of re-reading the Templar series….. ;-)


  2. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Another cracking tale!


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