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Posts Tagged ‘Frigate

Pasha – Julian Stockwin

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pasha

I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to be back at sea once again with Captain Thomas Kydd. Though the majority of my reading is of novels set in the ancient world or at most in the high medieval era, every now and then I like to dip into another era for a change, and Stockwin is fast becoming one of my absolute favourites.

If you’ve not read any of the Kydd series, I’d best warn you that you might not want to start with this volume, Pasha being the fifteenth book in the series. Of course, the bright side of that is that if you haven’t read any of them, I’m switching you onto not just one book, but 15.

Set in the late 18th to early 19th century, the series follows the nautical adventures of one Thomas Kydd, a low born southern Englishman who rises through the ranks of the British Navy, as well as those of his confidential secretary Nicholas Renzi. The first volume begins in 1793, meaning – those of you familiar with the era will probably already have thought of this – the reader has some of the most amazing and world-changing events to come.

So on to Pasha – Volume 15 – which takes place in 1807. After the disastrous debacle in South America from book 13 and the brief sojourn in the Caribbean in book 14, Kydd is called back to England. Fearing for his career and even legal repercussions after South America, our hero returns with his ship l’Aurore to face his doom. What he is returning to is far from what he expected.

More than any other book in the Kydd series I am fearful of giving anything away with Pasha. It is a book far too easy to spoil for the prospective reader, and so I shall attempt to tempt you without detailing too much plot.

As you might guess from the title, this book takes place in the Eastern Mediterranean – the domain of the Ottoman Empire. Sent east from the coast of Spain with orders to put himself at the disposal of the British ambassador in Constantinople, Captain Kydd finds himself at a critical moment in Ottoman history. Allied with both Britain and Russia, the Ottoman sultan is in the unenviable situation of being attacked by their Russian ‘friends’ while being wooed by their enemy the French. The British ambassador is desperate and nervous and on the verge of something precipitous, and Kydd is unable to do much more than do as he is told.

Throw into the mix a British nobleman acting as a spy and intriguer in the court of the Sultan, and things can only become more complex. At stake in this mess is the potential for Napoleon Bonaparte to secure an alliance with the Ottoman Empire and with it, a route for his forces into the wide world without having to break out past the British Navy. So no pressure, then?

Cue intrigue, races under fire, sea battles, imprisonment, escape, trickery, panic, land assaults and so much more in a switchback tale that is easily the best in the series and stands to be one of my top books of the year.

Incidentally, there is one scene in the book that will stay with me for a long time, because it reminds me very closely of one of my favourite movie moments of all time. Remember that scene in Das Boot, where the sub has been stuck on the bottom of the sea and manages to resurface but has to make a run through the Straits of Gibraltar on diesels, with the captain in the conning tower, yelling ‘Verdammt’ as he pounds his fist on the sub while guns blast from both sides? You don’t? Well now go out and watch that movie too! But there is a comparable scene in Pasha that held me with the same power.

Finally, I will say once again that Stockwin’s writing is among the most authentic in the field. Not only has he managed to get the feel of the era in his speech and descriptive, but his own history in the Royal Navy informs everything he writes and lends it an air of authority. Moreover, in addition to that wonderful prose and conversation, in this particular volume, he manages to add in the exotic heady culture of Ottoman Istanbul. It is a win, quite simply.

Kydd is back, and volume 15 is the best yet, full of surprises and excitement.

The book is out today. Go get it.

Written by SJAT

October 9, 2014 at 8:00 am

Julian Stockwin? No Kydding…

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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.

Written by SJAT

October 11, 2012 at 7:38 pm