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By Force of Arms (Revolution at Sea #1) Paperback – February 1, 1996

32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The American Revolution has been well covered in fiction, but almost entirely as a land war-much as the War of 1812 has been treated virtually only as a naval war. By Force of Arms is the first book of a new series that will address the former shortcoming by following the career of Isaac Biddlecomb, a merchant seaman who has risen from the forecastle to the command of a vessel at the opening of the story. Biddlecomb isn't a natural-born hero at home in a hail of grape in the tradition of Hornblower or Aubrey. He is an ordinary American living in an extraordinary time, and Nelson, who has sailed aboard the modern reconstruction of the Revolutionary-period frigate H.M.S. Rose, makes clever use of this device to explain issues of the war and man-of-war life to the reader in unobtrusive fashion. Nelson's seagoing experience is evident in his clear, convincing description of the sailing. His dialogue, however, lacks the period feel of O'Brian and Forester-several times denizens of both the quarterdeck and the forecastle indicate assent with "Okay," which didn't degrade the vernacular for another century. Biddlecomb's sidekick is Ezra Rumstick, part-time patriot, part-time smuggler, full-time friend, and his nemesis is Captain James Wallace, the thoroughly professional commander of the Rose. The characters are strong and realistic, the plot and action believable and brisk, if none too complex, and readers will care enough about Biddlecomb's welfare to reach for Nelson's second installment. On the whole, an engaging start to what promises to be a fine adventure series in a neglected milieu.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"'Authenticity runs throughout the book, carrying total conviction'" -- Patrick O'Brian "'First rate action writing'" Publishers Weekly "'Nelson writes with the eagerness of a young man sailing his first command'" -- Patrick O'Brian --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; 1st Edition(PB) edition (February 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671519247
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671519247
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #430,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

To sign up for notices about upcoming books and the occasional newsletter, please go to the Contacts page on my web site.

Now, the biographical part...

I was born in a log cabin in the sea-side town of Lewiston, Maine.... Okay, maybe not a log cabin. And maybe Lewiston isn't exactly a seaside town. Despite that, my interest in ships and the sea began early, reading Hornblower and building ship models. In high school I built a fifteen foot sailboat, and with a friend, an eighteen foot canoe.

I graduated from Lewiston High School in 1980, if not with honors then at least with a diploma. After a year of hitchhiking and motorcycling around the country, I attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, later transferring to UCLA Film School (Official Motto: '...but what I really want to do is direct...') , from which I graduated in 1986. After working in the television industry for two years, I realized that I could not stand a) the television industry, b) Los Angeles and c) being ashore. In 1988 I joined the crew of the Golden Hinde (rhymes with mind), a replica of Sir Francis Drake's vessel of 1577. There I met a foretop person named Lisa Page, whom I beat out for the job of bosun. Lisa vowed then and there to marry me and make me pay for that for the rest of my life.

Leaving the Hinde in Houston, Texas, I worked aboard the brig Lady Washington (after my time she played the Interceptor in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie) and the ship 'HMS' Rose, (Surprise in Master and Commander, also after my time) I sailed aboard Rose for two years, as Able Bodied Seaman and Third Mate.

In 1993, I 'swallowed the anchor.' Lisa Page, made good on her threat and we married that year. The following year I finished By Force of Arms, my first book. I've been a full-time writer since then, with fourteen books either published or in the process of being published. My books have sold in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain. My 2003 title Glory in the Name was selected as the winner of the American Library Association's W.Y. Boyd Award for Excellence in Military Fiction.

Recently, my writing has expanded to include non-fiction. My first work of non-fiction was Reign of Iron, a detailed look at the ironclads Monitor and Merrimack (Virginia, Benedict Arnold's Navy about the Revolutionary war naval battle that took place on Lake Champlain. My book George Washington's Secret Navy won the Naval Order's Samuel Eliot Morison award in 2010.

Lisa and I now live in Harpswell, Maine (which really is a seaside town), with our four children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Roger Lee on February 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is very exciting at times, but it also has its weak points. Nelson does a good job of keeping the action going and he also does a good job of describing the intricate workings of a man-of-war during the late 18th century. I also think Nelson made a good decision by having his books set during the American Revolutionary War and told from the American point of view. The sea novel about the Royal Navy set during the Napoleonic Wars has been done to death and done well by many other authors. Now for what Nelson doesn't do so well. Nelson's writing is not nearly as smooth or brilliantly descriptive as Patrick O'Brian. His characters are mostly one-dimensional, much of the plot is predictable and some of the action is a little unbelievable. I have to admit though, in spite of its flaws, I did find it reasonably entertaining.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Zack Miller on October 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
For those who can't get enough of Nautical Fiction or Historical Fiction of the American Revolution, James Nelson has come to the rescue. Nelson in his first novel puts plot above character (the opposite of O'Brian), but there is a decidedly American flair to his work. For those of us who live in New England, we can feel the winter chill and see the deep blue winter sky of Rhode Island. The work is more like the novels of Kenneth Roberts. The action is fast paced. There are no naturalists pursuing arcane beetles, no duets coming from the Captain's Quarters. What there is, is a good sea story from the age of sail. If the map of Narragansett Bay in the front of the book is not adequate, than the serious history buffs should get out their charts.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Alright, this is mostly a quibble. These books are rousing stories and Nelson has a wonderful talent for evoking the period and feel of 18th century America and the revolution. But he needs to fire his editor. Nothing ruins a good read more than suddenly slamming against a mis-spelled or inappropriate word or phrase. This whole series is full of them: a man talks of his wounded hand "heeling;" he uses "then" when he means "than," and vice versa; and most exasperatingly, he continually mis-represents the name of the American warship Andrea Doria as "Andrew" Doria (arggh!). Overall it seems the publishers have mistaken thier spellchecker for a good proofreader who knows his subject. Oh well, I still can't wait for the next book. Great stuff! (oh, and by the bye; people are hanged, pictures are hung).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tony Watson on June 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
A string of unfortunate events propel Isaac Biddlecomb from captain of a merchant ship, to wanted smuggler, to foremast jack, then - the ultimate degradation - pressed into service in the enemy's Navy, aboard a hell-ship run by incompetent tyrants. Hopes of escape in Barbados are thwarted by a farcical attempt at anchoring, the subsequent disgrace tipping the unstable Captain over the brink into madness.
In parallel, all the elements are coming together for mutiny, both at sea and in the American colonies; this is 1775, just over a year after the Boston Tea Party, and the British blockades and harrying of shipping are stretching tempers to the limit.
Biddlecomb finds himself a key player in the run up to the struggle for American Independance
Mr.Nelson does a fine job of weaving the threads of this story into a fine yarn, with plenty of historical facts to back it up. The characters are well-drawn and believable, the writing flows and the action sequences are so vividly detailed, one almost feels like part of the crew.
This is book 1 of a 5-part saga, which promises great things. There is action and plot twists right up to the last page, I couldn't put it down.
The author has also thoughtfully included a glossary of naval terms for those readers unfamiliar with the jargon.*****
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 11, 1996
Format: Paperback
When I purchased this book I assumed it would be written in
a style similar to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series.
following so closely in it's wake, so to speak. It is not,
though there are some expressions, "Never in Life"
and "Easy as kiss my hand", that I had never read anywhere
prior to O'Brian. The action scenes fall somewhere between
Patrick O'Brian and Alexander Kent. The style is easy with
subtle humor woven throughout. I put it down feeling
that I had just finished another in a series written by
Kenneth Roberts. It put me in mind of his "Arundel" or
"Rabble In Arms". Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the book and
look forward to reading the remainder of the series.

John Minners
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John R. Linnell on November 3, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I seem to be on a James Nelson roll lately having recently read The Only Life That Mattered and the books of The Bretheren of the Coast trilogy. This is the first book in what was originally concieved as the Revolution At Sea trilogy, but has now been extended to at least five books and entitled a "Saga". Well, if the story found in the first book is representitive of what is to follow, a saga it surely will be.

Isaac Biddlecomb is the captain of the Judea as the story begins on New Year's Eve in 1775. Returning from a successful smuggling run to Barbados they are about to enter Bristol Harbor when they encounter the HMS Rose, a British Man of War sent by King George to enforce tariffs and suppress smugging. Badly damaged he decides to send his ship into the coastal rocks in order to escape and thereby sacrifices his ship and the fortune she was carring.

The Rose is commanded by Captain James Wallace who sets out to find and arrest Isaac in order to make an example of him. That action leads to a series of encounters and escapes by Biddlecomb that eventually finds him pressed into service on a British ship wheich turns out to be a true living hell until circumstances occur which place him in command of the British ship and bound for another encounter with Captain Wallace.

Nelson writes strongly and convincingly of the times in colonial America and identifies the emerging desire for independence among its people as well as giving identity to those who would have kept us loyal to the king. This is a fast moving story, packed with adventure at sea, violence, intrigue and suspense. It is a very promising start for what looks to be a terrific series of reads.
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