Volume I of “‘290″‘ ended with the firm of Davis and Grey celebrating a hard-earned victory and mourning the seizure of their prize blockade-runner. Fortunately, the government seizure of their ship allows the firm to purchase two more and hopefully bolster the Confederate’s navy. The Civil War is in full swing, the Union blockade is wavering, and soldiers on both sides continue to die in what many fears is a never- ending war.


Joanna Davis sends her partner James Trenton Grey to Liverpool to commission more ships for the Confederate Navy. As Grey makes his way to England, Davis deals with the aftermath of the Dark Star’s successful blockade run, expanding the firm in Nassau, and her blossoming relationship with the now-absent Grey. Grey, meanwhile, has his work cut out for him. England cannot build or arm warships for a war unless they are directly involved, which they currently are not. He not only has to find a sympathetic shipwright, but a legal loophole that will allow for the construction and arming of a Confederate warship in British waters.

Further ratcheting up the tension, the Union Consul in Liverpool discovers Grey’s motives and begins to maneuver behind the scenes to either prevent the ship’s construction or impound it before it can leave British waters. Grey has a few allies on his side that step on to the board to counter the Consul’s political wheeling and dealing. Grey manages to uncover a loophole in the law that allows the ship to be built, but it cannot be crewed or armed in British waters. Thus, Grey is able to commission a ship, the 290th ship built by the Southern-sympathetic shipwright company Laird and Co. This comes to light, leading all the power players to kick off a shifting tug of war that puts 48 hours on the clock. 290 must be out of British waters or risk impoundment, which may have rippling consequences for the war raging back in America.

“The Laird Gunboat” is Volume II of the Donn Wonnell’s “‘290′” series. It seamlessly picks up and improves on the story started in Volume I. The scope remains firmly on the human tribulations of a war that threatens to rip the United States apart and pull other countries into the maelstrom. Instead of the first volume’s focus on naval battles, “The Laird Gunboat” shifts to the economic, political, and legal behind the scenes action. However, it never veers into info-dumps and remains firmly fascinating. As with the first volume, the characters are engaging, the dialogue snappy, and the prose captivating. Simply put, this is incredible historical fiction. Readers cannot help but be drawn into the struggles of Johanna Davis and Trent Grey. One small issue was Johanna’s diminished presence in this volume, but it appears she will play a larger role in the following volume. Overall, “The Laird Gunboat” is an intriguing entry and bodes well for the future of the series.

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