It is 1801. Napoleon is reaching supreme power in France and has allied himself with Tsar Paul of Russia.
Young captain Nathaniel Drinkwater is given command of an old ship, the Virago, to be sent to the Baltic as a bomb vessel. Drinkwater's ambition is to turn it back into a fighting ship, but his plans are thwarted. At the same time, Drinkwater's brother appeals for help in his desperate attempt to escape the gallows. As Sir Hyde Parker's fleet approaches the Danish coast, the Virago joins the battle. Amid gales and ice, Drinkwater strives to save his ship and his brother.
But personal aims meet international war as, against the hazardous backdrop of Napoleon's onward march, Drinkwater's actions in the complex and bloody battle of Copenhagen become crucial.
Although there's some good sea action in Woodman's (Keepers of the Sea new adventure, the chief attraction is the vivid depiction of the politics of Europe and the Royal Navy in Lord Nelson's day. In 1800, Lieut. Nathaniel Drinkwater wangles a command for himself though it's only aboard the "bomb tender'' Virago, a 40-year-old former mortar ship. After Drinkwater makes Virago shipshape, she plays an important role in the 1801 attack on Copenhagen. En route to this climactic battle, Drinkwater contends with Navy politics, a cowardly blackguard of a purser, his own fugitive brother and, not least, the Danish artillery. The corruption, snobbery and pigheadedness of the Navy Office, ``those portals of perfidy and corruption,'' is nicely conveyed, as is the Navy lore, augmented by an interesting, low-key portrait of the great Nelson.