Julian Stockwin,
(Scribner, 2001; McBooks, 2008)

In Kydd, the first novel in an ongoing series of nautical adventures, author Julian Stockwin doesn't go in the same direction as many other sea-farin' novels.

Sure, like many in the grand tradition of Forester and O'Brian, Kydd is set aboard a British vessel during the Napoleonic wars with France. But, unlike great heroes such as Hornblower and Aubrey, young Thomas Kydd has no truck with the quarterdeck. No lofty captain, not even a lieutenant or midshipman, Kydd is a landbound wigmaker pressed to sea and set to work among the common sailors on Duke William, a ship of the line blockading French ports.

It's a refreshing perspective that sets Kydd apart from most books in the genre, and it's certainly an enjoyable ride seeing things in the Royal Navy from a landsman's point of view. In fact, Stockwin's expert use of naval jargon -- often without explanation or definition for the reader -- might seem like a weakness, but in the case of Tom Kydd, it seems to hammer home his own feelings of confusion among the many masts, sails, ropes and pulleys he must master.

Kydd proves to be a quick study, fortunately, and he rises among his peers to show real promise as a sailor. This series promises to be a good read.

But, while Stockwin has a keen grasp on the brutal realities of a life before the mast -- readers can't help but be impressed by how much he knows on the subject -- his character development and dialogue needs a little polish. By no means terrible, Kydd simply shows a bit of the new author's awkwardness -- and Kydd himself is perhaps just a bit too good at everything he tries -- but I have full confidence those qualities will improve in time.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

16 January 2010

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