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The Thomas Kydd series, by Julian Stockwin
The Thomas Kydd series
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Being a big fan of the nautical fiction genre, and having read C.S. Forrester, Patrick O’Brian, Alexander Kent, Dewey Lambdin, Dudley Pope and others, I was excited recently to ‘find’ the tree historical fiction novels Kydd, Artemis and Seaflower - all books in the so called "Kydd and Renzi" series - and (for me) a new series of historical fiction books from the romantic Age of Sail written by an interesting “new” author, Julian Stockwin.
One of the things that makes this series special is that when the Thomas Kydd series start, Kydd is at the very bottom of the hierarchy in the Royal Navy - a newcomer to the Navy, and part of the crew. Other nautical fiction heroes - Horatio Hornblower, Alan Lewrie and Richard Bolitho for instance - all started as midshipmen. The only other hero that did not, to my knowledge, is Richard Woodman's Nathaniel Drinkwater, but he was "almost" midshipman (for more about nautical fiction on this site, see also the naval fiction overview page). And as I have read more, the series has grown on me. It's a series I recommend reading.
Kydd, by Julian Stockwin
Kydd is a Napoleonic seafaring adventure. This is the first novel in Julian Stockwin’s series about Thomas Paine Kydd. It is an impressive book. The characters are vivid and realistic. It takes place in the year of 1793. Tom Kydd is introduced at the point when he is taken away from his home and family by the press gang. The book follows him through his time on his first ship, an aging 100 gun line of battle ship HMS Duke William, nicknamed the “Royal Billy”.
Since Kydd is a pressed man, he joins the ship as a “landsman”, and knows nothing about ships and life at sea. This provides Stockwin with a great opportunity to describe this in detail, something which he does in a great way, very engaging and interesting. It's a very rough life, and Stockwin skillfully makes us readers share the pain and tedium of it while he tells the story of the education of the young Kydd. I loved this novel, and also learned a lot about the great sail battleships from it.
Kydd is lucky, and joins a mess where a seasoned sailor sees his potential and helps him begin to learn the order and tasks in this for him new and dizzying world. And he soon becomes fascinated by sea life, and finds that he want to learn as much as he can. As well, Kydd makes the acquaintance of Nicholas Renzi, a cultivated-looking man with a secret.
Stockwin manages both to introduce Kydd to the ways of the Navy, and at the same time write a novel that is also fast-paced and full of action: Tom battles shipwrecks, mutinous crews, and heated battles with the French. A great historical novel from the Age of Sail, and a very entertaining read!
Artemis, by Julian Stockwin
Artemis is the second story in the Thomas Kydd and Nicolas Renzi series. In the first, Kydd, the hero was pressed into naval service. Here, there is a little bit of a change of pace. Now the two friends Kydd and Renzi are "Able Seamen" in the frigate Artemis.
Also, in this book, the characters of the two heroes are developed a little further. This is especially true for the somewhat mysterious Renzi – a man much more versed in the ways of the world and clearly of a higher social class than the average seaman in the Royal Navy at the time! Now we learn a little more about why he gives us this impression.
Artemis is a fierce little ship, a great raider and ship with a reputation for winning prize money. While the ships of the line were large and slow, frigates combined speed, maneuverability and firepower. And they also required more of each man and provided closer comradeship with less ceremony and formality.
In this book, both Kydd and Renzi distinguish themselves aboard the sleek frigate Artemis in a cutthroat battle where she is overmatched against the French frigate Citoyenne. The battle ends in hand-to-hand combat and a very hard-won victory for Artemis. Thus our heroes get to be rated Petty Officers. This means they make the huge transition from seaman’s mess to the Petty Officer’s mess.
Julian Stockwin paints a full vivid picture of naval life with lots of attention to detail. There is clearly a lot of knowledge and research behind this series, as well as knowledge about navy life. Also, I find that I like Stockwin’s writing – it is to the point, and he drives the stories forward at a good pace. The characters are pretty much original, although some parallels to the writings of Patrick O’Brian and his unforgettable Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin can be found. This series is good and entertaining, but not quite - so far - in the class of O’Brian, Marryat and Conrad, from a literary point of view. Still, Artemis is a good book, greatly entertaining and recommended for lovers of naval historical fiction!
Seaflower, by Julian Stockwin
This is the third book in Stockwin’s series (it follows Artemis) about Thomas Paine Kydd and his friend Nicholas Renzi. Both Kydd and Renzi are now wiser and more seasoned seadogs than before.
This tale moves quickly from the grim 18th-century England to the beautiful and lawless ports and seas of the West Indies, and the adventures of the cutter Seaflower. While the story can be read as a continuation of the Kydd series, it also stands up well as a tale in its own right and reveals much about the way ordinary seamen viewed themselves and their superiors.
Seaflower provides a good and detailed account of shipboard life in the late 18th century from the point of view of the common sailor. It’s all here – the cramped conditions, the disgusting food, the undeserved punishment and cruelty of some of the officers, and unremitting toil - and well described as well!
There is a lot of action in this book – both on land and sea. And there is romance, sea battles, tales of cynical exploitation of seamen as well as a breathless episode set in a wild hurricane. The fast action and a good plot, along with the fact that Stockwin’s writing is improving with each new book, all help to make Seaflower the best Kydd novel yet. Very promising for the series, and a nice and entertaining tale!
Praise for Julian Stockwin’s books:
‘I was soon turning over the pages almost indecently fast ... Roll on, the promised adventures of Kydd and Renzi.’ (Independent)
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