After a brief recapitulation of the eventful first volume in this series, Pope picks up the day to day adventures of Lt. Lord Ramage in his first command. Carrying the love of his life to Gibraltar, Ramage falls in with frigates, both Spanish and British, has an onshore diversion spying on the enemy, has a run-in with a Levanter, and returns to save the day for the fleet and his beloved Commodore Nelson.
Ramage is a clever dog, and Pope smart enough to keep us in the dark about his hero's tricks until he's about to crash aboard an enemy ship. I love the atmospheric detail of antique things and actions, but Pope is also a bit talky, his factual asides occasionally breaking into the action, rather like a sprinkle of sand on plum duff. Often his asides serve to draw out an action to interminable, almost real-time, length. For example, Pope has Ramage engage in a monologue on the texture of deck wood while he makes a fateful decision during Adm. Jervis' great fleet battle off Cape St. Vincent in 1797 (NB: this is NOT Nelson's fatal battle at nearby Trafalgar, in 1805). In such ways Pope stretches a single-ship action to 80 agonizing pages, with hardly a page for the actual cut-and-thrust of boarding. Maybe Pope is trying to give us a study of the thought processes of successful leadership, at close to the last time leaders were wholly on their own. Good thing Ramage has the loyalty of his crew and the luck o' the divil for his thrilling but disobedient series of escapades here off Spain, or he'd've been flogged 'round the fleet. (If you want to try your own hand at sailing a radio-controlled model square-rigger, my search of the Web suggests it will cost us thou$ands vs several hundred$ for a fore-and-aft rig.)
I suspect many of the episodes are exciting fantasy, but set in solid historical contexts (easiest to write while the hero is still a minor officer unlikely to have been mentioned in dispatches). The jolly steadfastness of Ramage's tars could become tiresome; reminds me too much of Marryat. Kudos to McBooks for the typography that catches the insouciance of Ramage, and for the thrilling wrap-around cover art of Paul Wright.