The Ship’s Carpenter by D. E. Stockman is an historical novel set in France and England, primarily in the 1740s, as those two countries wage war at sea. The title refers to the character Abraham Robinson, an English shipwright who leaves for France in search of work during a time of peace. With a hand injured in his work, his hope for work in France becomes a gateway to a life he could not have imagined. The book chronicles Abraham’s travails as he’s fired, not once but twice, from work in a French shipyard because he is an Englishman during a time of war. In between these stints, he joins the British navy in a drunken fog, over time rising to become not only a Master Ship’s Carpenter and Warrant Officer, but also a very good one. Along the way Abraham also meets his heart’s desire, Yvette.
The relationship with Yvette is at first a tenuous one, as Abraham is cast aside in favor of a prior lover, but it affords us reason to explore the relationships of several French and English naval officers and their families. It also adds depth to Abraham and creates just enough romantic tension to keep the book from falling strictly into a work of historical naval fiction.
Yvette’s initial struggles in England as a betrothed but single, young French Catholic woman trying to find her way in London while her fiancé is away at sea were an unexpected but delightful part of the novel for me. I loved reading of her budding career as a book buyer and seller, as well as of her growing independence.
Other great character lines include Francois and Rene, noble Frenchmen who come from a long line of naval officers. Francois, a respectable family man and Rene, his brother, with a taste for women, could not be more different and yet, they serve side-by-side united by family pride and a love of country. Anton, Yvette’s father, is another favorite. He, like Abraham, works as a shipwright in a yard in Brest and loves his family deeply. Washington Shirley, a British naval officer is another fascinating character that enriched the book and added depth to Abraham. The Ship’s Carpenter is full of interesting, passionate characters that bring the story to life which, for me, is always the mark of a good novel.
This book is remarkably well researched and it’s clear that Stockman is fascinated with naval history and the workings of sailing ships. The pages drip with terminology. His interest in woodworking and ship building is evident as well. Add that to the many references to books and I think Stockman and I would have much to talk about over a nice glass of wine. Additionally, although this book is a work of fiction, many of the naval battles recounted in the book actually took place and Stockman makes good use of what we know actually occurred, making them richer for our involvement in the lives of the characters and their dialog throughout the book.
Where the book falls short for me though, is in the character development. It’s an ambitious book that either needs to be longer or shorter. There are so many interesting characters that I simply want more of each of them so I’d prefer that either the book is far longer to allow for deeper character development or shorter with fewer characters, still allowing for deeper development. Did Abraham and Yvette ever have children? Were they able to return to their home in France? Did Louis return to England to reunite with Mary? Similarly, the last chapter or two of the book shifts completely away from Abraham and Yvette, focusing entirely on Louis, Rene, and Francois and the Battle of Quiberon Bay. These are interesting chapters but where is the Ship’s Carpenter when all of this is taking place?
Still, we must remember that this is just the first book in the Tween Sea & Shore Series. The second book, Captains of the Renown, is due out later in 2020 and I hope will resolve some of my lingering questions. I very much enjoyed The Ship’s Carpenter by D. E. Stockman. It is a well written, well researched first novel that will appeal to many and I look forward to the next book in the series.
Note: I was provided a copy of this book for the purposes of this review. Still, if I didn’t like the book, I never would have reviewed it. Promise.
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