Thursday, March 11, 2010

REVIEW: With Hearts Courageous

Title: With Hearts Courageous
Author: Jon Steven Nappa
Genre: fiction
Price: $16.95
Publisher: Storm Warriors International
ISBN: 978-0615323954
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Jon Steven Nappa’s second novel, With Hearts Courageous, is the story of Sir William Hillary, founder of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The RNLI is one of the most beloved charities in Great Britain and Ireland, and it is unique in that, of all the world’s maritime rescue services, it is a private organization, funded entirely by private donations.

So, it was with great hope that I asked Mr. Nappa to send me a copy of the novel. Alas, my hopes were only partially fulfilled. Nappa starts the novel just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which is when Sir Hillary moved to the Isle of Man. It’s not until chapter 4, after some frankly boring discussions of Sir Hillary’s personal life and allusions to his finances, that we come to what is portrayed as his personal turning point – the wrecking of the local fishing fleet in a winter gale. Even then, the pace of the novel doesn’t pick up much.

In fairness to Mr. Nappa, the author, some of my disappointment is due to my expectations. I expected something a bit more focused on the actual rescue service, not, as is this novel, focused on the life and finances of the service’s founder. I did, however, learn something, namely the need to provide pensions to the dependents of lifeboat sailors – a critical factor to enabling the creation of the Institution.

If, then, one enters With Hearts Courageous expecting more of a character study of early Victorian life, I suspect that they will be happier than I was. Although even under that light, I found Nappa’s prose serviceable at best. His dialog in particular is creaky, even given the high degree of formality seen in all classes of that era. I also ended up learning rather more than I cared to of Sir Hillary’s finances. The man was always on the knife edge of financial ruin, and finally in the late 1830s he went completely broke.

With Hearts Courageous is an attempt to provide some insight into a complex man, who founded a lasting institution with a great record of success. However, I feel that the book would have benefited greatly from a more focused and tighter narrative.


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