It is the summer of 1588 and a pair of unlikely shipmates is traveling on theVixen, a privateer that will soon be drafted to join a flotilla of English ships bound for a fiery clash with the Spanish Armada. Seventeen-year-old Sherwin is aboard to repay a debt he owes the ship's roguish captain, Brandon Fletcher. Sixteen-year-old Katharine is sailing with them in a desperate bid to save her noble family's fortune. The fight will be harrowing and bloody, and the unfolding tumult will challenge the character of both Sherwin and Katharine, who are about to discover the deeper meaning of strife and of honor.
This fascinating tale affords an unusual view of one of the most important naval encounters in history, as a kindling romance between two young people takes place amidst a reluctant race to battle.
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
May 01, 2009
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Excerpt from Peril on the Sea by Michael Cadnum
SHERWIN MORRIS woke to the smell of .re. Heavy seas had been building all day, and now the merchant ship Patience was standing to, the ship set side ways against the wind and the sea swells that rocked her.
Sherwin could hear Captain Pierson on deck, the ordi narily good-humored ship's master calling out, asking why the .re was still burning after the entire watch had been sent below to smother it.
Sherwin squeezed out of his narrow bunk, pulled on his doublet, thrust his cap onto his head, and joined the cap tain on deck. The night was thick with smoke, despite the strong wind that raked the ocean around them.
Recent hours had been troubling enough. The Patience had been dogged by an unfamiliar ship just visible on the horizon during the previous blustery day's sail, an English ship, by all reckoning, but one unknown to the captain, and all day Sherwin had sensed increasing anxiety in the cargo ship's crew.
But no one had anticipated this.
As soon as Sherwin saw the .ames licking through the grate over the cargo hold he felt sick. The Patience was three days out of Hamburg, the thriving German-speaking port. The ship was laden with wine, a notori ously .ammable cargo, but one that rarely caught .re, due to the skill of English coopers and the fact that there was usually enough briny leakage in the hold to discourage it.
Captain Pierson caught the look of concern in Sher win's eye, and he gave a nod. "Lend a hand there, Sher win, if you will," he said. The captain had agreed to train Sherwin--a youthful gentleman--in the .ne points of shipboard life, and in exchange Sherwin was going to pen a history of Captain Pierson's voyages, with a publisher on Paternoster Row near Saint Paul's already secured.
But his duties also included helping the crew, especially in an emergency. Sherwin joined the gathering of hands on deck, manning a pump to draw water out of the En glish Channel and down into the .ery hold. As the pump water spewed and guttered into the increasing blaze, Sherwin could sense the fear of death seize his shipmates, among them Risley, the ship's cooper, with his hearty laugh silenced for the moment, and Wyman, the ship's gunner, laboring beside Sherwin with a prayer to Lord Jesus.
The moment might have been the span of a few heart beats, or it might have been a quarter of an hour.
Sherwin had no way of reckoning the passage of time.
And in a way he had no desire to. This was, after all, the sort of experience eighteen-year-old Sherwin had sought in signing on with the well-regarded merchant captain-- that, and the chance to earn money and a portion of pub lic notice with the adventure he was intending to publish.
There was, furthermore, a sense of companionship rooted in the effort to save the ship that captivated Sher win. Ship's boy and grizzled veteran alike, they all labored in a highly disciplined passion--more pumps brought into play, axes tearing at the decking, First Of.cer Timm calling out for the boatswain.
And then an explosion ripped the dark.