My Nautical Fiction Reading Challenge

Ahoy shipmates! As you may or may not recall, I set myself a nautical fiction reading challenge back in January. I’m aiming to read a bunch of fiction set on or near the sea, and to find nautical books that fulfil the following criteria:

  1. Female protagonist
  2. Set before 1500
  3. Pirates!
  4. Diverse cast
  5. Mystery
  6. Written by Patrick O’Brian
  7. Set during WWII
  8. Mermaids!
  9. Animals (must be central to the plot)
  10. Romance (aka ships on ships)

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle

This ticks off challenge no. 5 – mystery – in a very satisfying way. It’s a classic whodunnit in the vein of Agatha Christie, set on a transatlantic voyage in the 1920s. The plot unfolds in a perfectly measured way, tantalising the reader throughout the beginning and middle of the novel. Then you get towards the end, which is where the real magic happens.

As excellent as the plot is, I was less impressed with the characters. Timothy Birch is nuanced and sympathetic, but Inspector Temple just comes across as a one-note grump. He’s one of those characters who’s always growling, which is a pet peeve of mine. The more minor characters are pretty well-drawn, but it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who.

It’s not the most nautical of nautical novels, as the size of the ship means the action could be unfolding in a luxury hotel. Still, there’s something deliciously sinister about being stuck on a ship with a killer, surrounded by nothing but the icy ocean.

Das Boot by Lothar Günther Buchheim

I read this for challenge no. 7 – set during WWII – as it follows the crew of a German U-boat through storms, enemy attacks, and basically one disaster after another. It’s a book to sink your teeth into, with rich detail about everything from the workings of the U-boat to the clouds on the horizon.

To say that this book is slow-paced is both an understatement, and completely missing the point. It’s not an adventure story where incidents are covered in a few paragraphs or a couple of pages. It’s a story of endurance, where events often play out with agonising slowness. When the men are attacked by depth charges, you feel like you’re there with them, shakily praying for it to end.

It’s a little strange to feel this level of sympathy for literal Nazis, but a testament to the psychological depth of Buchheim’s writing. He presents a world of ordinary men (and a couple of extraordinary ones) doing terrible things and having terrible things done to them simply because it’s their job.

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

A triple whammy! This book fulfils: challenge no. 1 – a female protagonist, challenge no. 3 – pirates, and challenge no. 10 – romance. And it’s not even a big fat novel, but a slim volume with brisk pacing.

I read Rebecca a few years ago, so I assumed that du Maurier wrote gothic psychological thrillers. It turns out our girl had range, and was equally capable of crafting a swashbuckling adventure-romance.

Frenchman’s Creek is very much an escapist novel, with the desire for freedom portrayed just as viscerally as the heightened emotions of first love. But bear in mind that this was published in 1941 and the protagonist is a mother of two young children. There’s always the sense that her escape out of a stifling society and into the arms of a pirate can’t last forever.

I now have five challenges left:

2. Set before 1500

4. Diverse cast

6. Written by Patrick O’Brian

8. Mermaids!

9. Animals (must be central to the plot)

Do you have any recommendations for nautical fiction that would fulfil any of these challenges? And have you ever read A Fatal Crossing, Das Boot or Frenchman’s Creek? What did you think of them?

Nautical Fiction Reading Challenge

Happy New Year me hearties! My new year’s resolution is to read a bunch of nautical fiction, because that’s a resolution I will actually stick to. I’ve created my own reading challenge, so if you’re up for some adventures on the high seas, climb aboard.

Every book I read for this challenge will be in the nautical fiction genre, i.e. it will be set on or near the sea. If you’re playing along and find a book that ticks more than one of these boxes, feel free to count it for both.

1. Female protagonist

Nautical fiction is often a boys’ club, so challenge #1 is finding a female-centric book.

2. Set before 1500

A lot of nautical fiction is set during the “golden age of sail”, generally considered to be mid-1500s to mid-1800s. But people were navigating the seas long before this, and I’d love to read a sea story from ancient times.

3. Pirates!

Pirates are cool.

4. Diverse cast

Most of the nautical fiction I’ve read is pretty Eurocentric, so I’ll be looking for stuff that isn’t just a bunch of white dudes. LGBTQ representation is always welcome, and it would be awesome to see physically disabled characters thriving at sea.

5. Mystery

Honestly, I’m just itching to read a murder mystery set on a cruise ship.

6. Something by Patrick O’Brian

Because you can’t read nautical fiction without reading Patrick O’Brian.

7. Set during WW2

I know this period is over-done in historical fiction, but I’ve still never read any WW2-era hist fic set at sea.

8. Mermaids!

Mermaids are cool.

9. Animal magic

Sailors share the seas with fish, whales, sharks, and so many other creatures. I’d like to read a nautical story where animals are central to the plot.

10. Ships on ships

I rarely seek out romance in fiction because I tend to get much more invested in friendships and other platonic relationships. But in the spirit of exploration, I’m going to try a big swoony romance on the high seas.

Do you have any recommendations for any of these challenges?

Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings this Year

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

“Cosy” isn’t usually something I look for in books, but I’m intrigued by the concept of cosy fantasy. Sometimes the world-building in fantasy novels is so tasty that I just want to hang out and people-watch in the tavern for a while rather than whizzing off on an adventure.

Das Boot by Lothar Günther Buchheim

I’ve never seen the film, but I recently watched the first series of the TV programme and damn-near chewed my nails off. So tense! I’m planning on doing a nautical fiction reading challenge in 2023, so this would be a great book to have at hand.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Yeah, it’s a bit of a dad book, but my taste in fiction is increasingly dad-ish. I think it would be a good companion to Das Boot.

Aces Wild: A Heist by Amanda Dewitt

Asexual representation is still hard to come by in books, so this is exciting. I love a good heist, and ace rep only sweetens the deal.

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

This is one of those classics I’ve been meaning to read forever and still haven’t got around to. I live in a large city but grew up in the countryside and often find myself missing it, so I love to read books with rural settings.

The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian

Obviously I want the next (eighth) book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. Jack and Stephen own my heart and their adventures never disappoint.

Port Royal by Peter Smalley

Another book from a nautical series. This is only the second book in Peter Smalley’s series, but the first one impressed me with its subtle examination of friendship across a class divide, and its fearless portrayal of trauma.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

I’ll admit it’s mostly the hype that’s got me curious about this one. Also, I recently read Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova and it got me in the mood for brujas and brujos!

Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon

I’ve been reading this series since I was 14, so it’s an automatic purchase. Yet somehow this book has been out for over a year and I still don’t have it.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

I want to read this before the movie adaptation arrives!


So what’s on your Christmas list this year? And have you read any of these books?

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