Burning Water is not a novel filled with strongly drawn characters. All of them, at times, tend toward parody. Captain George Vancouver would much prefer to achieve glory by fighting the French than by exploring the British Columbian coast. He is a man with no social graces who has advanced in the navy through his technical skill and his ability to outlive his fellow officers while at sea by eating sauerkraut to stave off scurvy. He is a man who loves tight discipline and the neat and the straightforward. “For him the simple was the same as the beautiful.” A Protestant of Dutch extraction, Vancouver takes his pleasure not in observing the remarkable landscape of the Pacific Northwest but in its accurate reproduction in his chart work. Dr. Archibald Menzies is “an animated personification of the curiosity of science.” He reflects the eighteenth century dedication to the accumulation of knowledge. The good doctor should be an ideal companion for Vancouver; both are intelligent, thorough, disciplined, and professional. Menzies, however, is arrogant, and he will not grovel before Vancouver to earn his friendship. Menzies has no romanticism in his character. He shoots and dissects an albatross while at sea on the very day that Samuel Taylor Coleridge publishes his famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798).
Admiral Don Juan Quadra, by fifteen years the senior of George Vancouver, survived in the Spanish navy by “thriving...
(The entire section is 425 words.)