Julian Stockwin,
Kydd #4: Mutiny
(Hodder & Stoughton, 2003; McBooks, 2005)

The first portion of Mutiny seemed listless and uninteresting, like a sturdy sail that just can't catch a breath of wind.

Tom Kydd, hero of Julian Stockwin's ongoing series of nautical adventures, spends the early chapters of the book loitering around Gibraltar, where his ship, 64-gun Achilles, is keeping station at the mouth of the Mediterranean. There, he idles away his time dancing, painting and pitching woo at a married lady. Finally, at the behest of his good friend Nicholas Renzi, he takes a temporary post on the frigate Bachante for a rescue mission to Venice.

But the meat of this story waits for the latter half, set in 1797, when Kydd sails home to England and into the midst of a massive mutiny at Spithead. His ship is sent on to Nore, in hopes of avoiding the trouble, but soon the fleet there too is embroiled in a general uprising.

While the famous mutiny at Spithead was quickly resolved, the incident at Nore dragged on and on ... and ended in something close to open treason. And Tom Kydd was there, through thick and thin (except for the times he was pitching woo at a dead shipmate's pretty young sister).

Kydd, who has proven to be an able seaman since he was first pressed at the beginning of the series, is initially appalled at the thought of rebellion. But an act of dishonor by one officer on Achilles flips his loyalties, and soon he is an outspoken advocate of sailor's rights and the right-hand man of mutiny leader Richard Parker.

Once again, Kydd turns out to be undeniably good at whatever he tries, so as soon as he decides to join the cause, he becomes the best darn mutineer you ever did see. Of course, anyone who knows their British naval history will tell you that the Nore rebellion did not turn out quite so well as Spithead. And things just can't go well for Kydd in the aftermath, because his involvement -- in a leadership role, no less -- was right there in the forefront where everyone can see him. His fate, alas, is assured.

Or is it?

Without revealing the plot that unfolds, suffice it to say that Kydd's friends will never, ever let anything bad happen to him. And that's the big disappointment of this book: Kydd doesn't deserve the rewards that await him.

Of course, Kydd needs his freedom to sail with the North Sea fleet when it meets the Dutch navy, and lord knows the British could never have won the great Battle of Camperdown come Oct. 11 if Kydd hadn't been there, manning a cannon.

That thrilling sea battle provides an exciting close to the novel, packing much of the book's action into nine pages.

I came away from Mutiny with mixed emotions. Stockwin remains one of the best novelists of the nautical age, climbing further toward the ranks of Forester and O'Brian with each new volume. However, he needs to realize that conflict in the plot and conflict for the protagonist aren't always the same thing and, while he places Kydd amid historically monumental events, Kydd himself seems to plod through them with little effort.

And I just can't help but think Kydd didn't get his just desserts this time around.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Tom Knapp

21 August 2010

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