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Book Review: Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe by James Ward

Genre: Epic Fantasy
Author: James M. Ward
Pub. Date: October 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 288pp
Publisher: Tor Books

This book was just plain fun. I first encountered James Ward when he wrote the bestselling Pools books for the Forgotten Realms shared world. When I came across his stand alone novel in Barnes and Noble the other day, 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 a series (the second book is already available in hardback, and is called Dragonfrigate Wizard Halcyon Blithe) 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. This book 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 it out there. It has a smattering of Patrick O�Brien, a dollop of Forester�s Hornblower, and a good helping of fantasy elements to make a delightful read.

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