Blue Jackets

Blue JacketsBlue Jackets by George Manville Fenn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author’s bio says that he wrote juvenile fiction (among other things), and if this is one of those books, then I shudder to think how George Manville Fenn’s children turned out. It’s an adventure tale, with all the violence you could ask for; mob violence, beatings, stabbings, shootings, beheadings and a boatload of contempt that hung like a cloud over the whole story. But if you’re hunting down pirates, would you expect anything less?

The story is narrated as an alternate ship log by a young officer (Nathaniel Herrick, affectionately known as gnat) aboard the English gunboat Teaser. They were patrolling the Chinese coast looking for pirates that crawled the waters during that time, apparently during the 1800’s during the rise of the steamship. Being a little lax on my history in this area, I’m supposing England was there protecting the interests of their countryman in China more than any affinity for the Chinese people, but in the end it was a win-win for everybody-except the pirates of course.

The story starts out with Gnat and two of his officer buddies getting shore leave for a few hours. Their haughty disrespect for a people that already resented their presence in the first place soon lands them in trouble, and only ass kicking providence saves them from a mob beat down that they were not likely to recover from. They make it back to the ship with a Chinese companion, Ching, who would turn out to be the cure for their blunders. Why Ching would even want to help these guys became clear later on. In the meantime, he was treated as an inferior, and Ching just sat there and took it. Was it racism, or ignorance of another culture? Maybe a bit of both, but as in so many books of yesteryear, we only have the Western view of the cultures. The Chinese hated these Englishmen, and we’re not sure why. Undoubtedly for various reasons, but would one of those be racism? Tribes, what are you going to do? I’m not really sure if Fenn had a racist view towards the Chinese in general (quite possible given the time period), or if he’s referring specifically to pirates. After all Ching is considered a friend, albeit an inferior one. Then again, this is supposed to be basically the diary of Gnat Herrick, not George Fenn. Without Fenn being here to defend himself (if he need be), I’m going to attribute anything politically incorrect to the characters, not the author. After all, this was supposed to be in the hey day of the British Empire, and they pretty much looked down on everybody, Chinese, Indians, and…good old Americans.

As far as the story goes, I’m not going to spoil it by giving a detailed synopsis here. But a general one would be appropriate. Finding a plundered barque ablaze, and the signs of horror that occurred aboard rouses the crew to find and dispose of any and all pirates they can get their hands on. And they do get their hands on some, vicious, vile and merciless. Though the pirates took their pounding, the crew of the Teaser weren’t unscathed themselves. It seems as if pirates would rather die than to be taken prisoner and turned over to the Chinese authorities. Read the story and you’ll understand why. Might as well go down swinging.

Lots of action, suspense, and even a hurricane for good measure that was quite the adventure in and of itself. If that calamity wasn’t bad enough-did I mention there were pirates about? The only thing missing-if it could be considered missing, was the lack of females. In fact, there were none in this story. Not even a discussion of women, and these were sailors far from home and living aboard a ship full of men. Manville either left that part of the story untold (after all, he had to get past the book publisher’s editors), or…it was a ship full of men. Manville didn’t go there, or anywhere else with that. Use your imagination. You’ll need to, because Fenn didn’t cover ship life in any great detail either; rats, bedbugs, squalor, bathing issues, toilet options-none of this was discussed by Fenn. Use your imagination; along with the rest of the story, it was all there. Filthy, smelly…

I give this story 4 stars because I really liked the story, despite the few missing elements as described above. In my opinion, it is not a story for juveniles, unless we have become so soft (or civilized) that this used to be the kind of fiction a young boy was in to. Could very well have been.

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