Julian Stockwin? No Kydding…
I’ll admit from the beginning that, despite this being the 13th Kydd novel, it is only the second that I’ve read, though I now realise that they are actually quite readable as standalone novels if the reader wishes.
I’ve recently been heavily devoted to reading ancient through medieval fiction, but I opened ‘Betrayal’ with enthusiasm. It has been a long time since I read Napoleonic era novels, but I was, to some extent, weaned on Forrester, Dudley Pope, and Alexander Kent. Having now read two of the Kydd novels I have confirmed for myself that Stockwin’s protagonist is easily the match for Bolitho, Hornblower or Ramage.
I won’t go too much into the specific plot of the book, as usual, to avoid spoilers, but the action begins in Africa, around Cape Town and with a magnificent opening chapter that evokes all the mystery and dangers of darkest Africa, the dangers of the French enemy, and the ingenuity and sheer daring of Kydd and his men. It also nicely introduces (or reintroduces) the main characters for those of us who have had time out from the series. Looking at a long period of excruciating boredom (and more importantly reduced chance of glory or advancement) patrolling the secure cape, Kydd’s commander, Popham, sets off on an unauthorized, outrageous and downright dangerous plan to try and subvert Spanish control of South America. Kydd, somewhat reluctantly agrees to join and is dragged into a little known action in history of which I had never even previously heard (thanks, Mr Stockwin, as I learned something new and particulary fascinating here.)
The action picks up very quickly and then sails along (pun intended) throughout the book. Checking the dust jacket I read of Stockwin’s history in the navy and realised whence one of the two things that impressed me most came. The author’s clearly first-hand and near-encyclopedic knowledge of all things ships and sailing combined with his obvious love of the period show through at every moment in the book without fail, bringing a depth of detail that adds to the read rather than stalling it. The other thing that impressed me most, even above the level of research that clearly went in, was the authentic feel just to the social aspect of the story. The speech is at once familiar and easy to read, and yet seems true to period and deeply atmospheric. The interaction between characters, particularly those of different classes or nationalities is wonderful.
But as in many good long-running series, one other thing worth mentioning is the clear growth of the characters and the ties that bind them together. As I said, I’ve only read one other Kydd novel before, and that was around six books ago. The result is that I could easily see how much Kydd has grown and changed over the books, while retainging those parts that make him the character people loved from the start. In addition the bond between he and Renzi is a joy to read.
In all, this was an excellent read as a standalone, so I can imagine that series devotees will love it. Stockwin stands up there with the best of Napoleonic and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Well done, Julian. Now I must go back and fill in the blanks.