“Fame favors the bold.” This is a famous line from Virgil’s “Aeneid“, a tale about the unlikely rise of an unfortunate traveler who’s suddenly blessed with good fortune. “Drake” follows a similar storyline. But unlike supernatural tales of bravery and heroism, it is chance and Francis Drake’s religious conviction which keep him from succumbing to a life of complacency. And yet, in spite of his ambition and strong sense of adventure, he is still a man of his time.
That is what this novel bottles down to. Often, I will come across novels with attractive covers and an enticing summary that promise to take the reader back in time to an era that will no longer seem so dissimilar from the one we live in. The problem with this is that the lead characters are turned into something else completely different from the real ones. Thankfully this isn’t the case with “Drake.”
Tony Riches has given us a Francis Drake that is the closest thing readers will get to the real historical figure. Furthermore, the author is brutally honest in his portrayal of this time period. There is no white washing or needless justification of characters’ actions or prejudices we don’t approve of and rightfully condemn today. And this brings me to my final point: when writing historical fiction, especially centered around legendary figures like Sir Francis Drake, the best way to do them justice is by being direct. With that directness comes heavy detail. Despite this time period being written and shown about to death in pop culture, there’s still a lot of misinformation. As a result, novelists must go above and beyond to put everything into context, and bring to life this time period while also keeping their readers hooked from start to finish.Drake’s life encompasses several turning points in English naval history. His sentiment is mirrored by several other members of his crew, including the various captains he’s served under. As a consequence, his initial contempt towards Elizabethan statesmen like William Cecil, Lord Burghley, is perfectly understandable. The statesmen of theate Elizabethan regime and the early reign of the first Stuart king of England had an uneasy business relationship with corsairs, naval adventurers, and others of the sort like Hawkins and Drake. So it was great to see this being portrayed here in a way that feels as if the brief exchanges between these characters actually happened.Another thing I greatly enjoyed was how the author captured Drake’s religiosity as well as the religious divisions of Europeans and their colonial subjects. Drake’s reading of bible verses and psalms was a perfect juxtaposition to the grim and amoral world at sea.If you are a big fan of the renaissance or early modern history in general, pick up this book. “Drake” invites you to discover the life of the daring Francis Drake and it also takes you on a wild voyage filled with uncertainty and danger, where human ingenuity, ambition, opportunism, religious conviction and unpredictable weather shaped the fortunes of Francis Drake and by default, England’s.