I first encountered James Ward when he wrote the best-selling Pools books for the FORGOTTEN REALMS shared world. When I came across Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, I just had to pick it up. I didn’t regret the decision.
The story is about young Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, a sixteen year old boy, late to his magical powers, who must learn to serve his country on a dragonship of the line. Much of the story is reminiscent of the Horatio Hornblower stories by C.S. Forester. This first book of the series is taken up with the training and growth of the young midshipwizard. He learns fencing, the fine art of sailing, and magic at sea, all the while developing a sense of honor and truth that is a good example to his shipmates.
The novel shows Ward’s in-depth knowledge of seamanship, fencing, and fantasy. While the majority of the book is spent in world-building and character development, the reader won’t feel that it is oppressive or in any way slows the book’s pacing. The story is vibrant and exciting. It would make an excellent young adult novel as well as being appealing to adults.
One thing I enjoyed a great deal was the concept of the dragonship. The ship was constructed using a live dragon! The ship lives and breathes and speaks to a very few of the wizards on board. Such a concept is so interesting in and of itself.
Ward also takes old sea chanteys and twists them to fit his world. I recognized the use of one of my favorite Irish-Celtic songs, “The Bonnie Ship the Diamond.” Such a use might seem lazy to the reader, but Ward does a good job maintaining the cant and style of the original tune so that a reader familiar with it will hear the tune in his head and enjoy it all the more.
Readers of seafaring novels will see a profusion of common seafaring names. Jason Argo is perhaps the most obvious. Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean for its seafaring and magical elements.
Ward does rely heavily on Blithe’s sea chest to get him out of tight spots, and at times some paragraphs can feel unconnected to the preceding one. The story has the pace and feel of a Hornblower novel, so it will not appeal to those looking for epic sea battles between ships, or a book where the main character is required to save an entire world from destruction. Coming from his Forgotten Realms beginning, Ward has written a novel that shows us a character, the world in which he lives, and what little he can do to better (or save) the lives of those around him.
Conceptually, there are no books like Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe out there. It has a smattering of Patrick O’Brian, a dollop of Forester’s Hornblower, and a good helping of fantasy elements; And these make for a delightful read.
FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind for contributing this guest review.
Halcyon Blithe — (2005- ) Young adult. Publisher: Halcyon Blithe, being a young man of good breeding and lineage as well as endowed with those qualities and abilities of a sorcerous nature and wishing to fulfill his full potential, is ready to assume his proper place in the world. He aims to seek his fortune among those who tend and sail the awesome nautical juggernauts — the dragonships. With this is mind, Blithe gladly accepts his rank as Midshipwizard and becomes a member of the crew who man the dragonships-vessels which harness the bodies and strength of living dragons with seafaring technology. Combining elements of Hornblower with Harry Potter, and Robert Louis Stevenson with Robin Hobb, Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe is a nautical tale rich in magic and intrigue. A tale set against a panorama of fantastic naval battle as we follow the career of a young midshipwizard as he moves up through the ranks of His Majesty’s Navy.