The Time of Terror
In The Time of Terror, Seth Hunter introduces us to a new naval hero in the style of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower. Nathan Peake is a commander in the British Navy who spends his days chasing smugglers along the English coastline. This is not really Nathan’s idea of fun and he longs to have some real adventures. He gets his chance in the year 1793 when, with England and France at war, he is asked to run the blockade in the English Channel and deliver some important documents to the American minister in Paris. Unknown to Nathan, however, his ship is carrying a cargo of counterfeit banknotes – putting his life in serious danger!
Although it’s not necessary to be an expert on French history to understand this story, you will get more out of it if you have some prior knowledge of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. So if names such as Georges Danton and Robespierre mean nothing to you, it might be a good idea to do some research before beginning the book.
Readers who enjoy historical fiction novels that focus on real historical figures will be pleased to know that throughout the pages of The Time of Terror you’ll meet the author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, the American agent (and Mary’s lover) Gilbert Imlay, the revolutionary writer Thomas Paine and many more—so many, in fact, that I began to feel Hunter was just trying to drop as many famous names as possible into the story, regardless of whether they were necessary.
The sheer amount of historical detail in this novel was slightly overwhelming, though usually interesting. There were dinner parties with Camille Desmoulins and Lucile Duplessis, visits to the waxworks (including a brief appearance by the young Madame Tussaud) and vivid descriptions of the guillotine. However, other parts of the story that interested me were barely touched on. The romantic storyline, for example, is very weak, and I would also have liked to have seen more of Nathan’s American feminist mother who had the potential to be a fascinating character.
If you’re concerned that there will be a lot of unfamiliar nautical terms and difficult-to-understand naval battles you’ll be right to some extent, but the story can still be followed even if you find yourself confused or bored by the seafaring aspects. The sea battle scenes, although very well written, actually contribute very little to the plot and the book would have worked better as a more conventional historical fiction novel in my opinion. However, there was probably too much land-based action to satisfy fans of nautical fiction so I think the book suffered from not really knowing what it wanted to be or what kind of reader it was aimed at.
This book is the first in a trilogy. In the second Nathan Peake book, The Tide of War, the action moves to the Caribbean and in the third, The Price of Glory, Nathan will meet Napoleon Bonaparte. Although I did find this book entertaining and interesting, I’m undecided as to whether I want to invest the time in following Nathan’s story to its conclusion.