Julian Stockwin,
(McBooks, 2010)

I was kind of excited to see a major character addition in Invasion -- the 10th book in Julian Stockwin's Tom Kydd series -- would be local hero Robert Fulton.

Fulton, whose name adorns a major bank chain and a grand old opera house in my hometown, was born here in my native Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And, while he's best known for his work on the steamboat, I was pretty keen to read about his work on -- what's this, submarine warfare in the days of Napoleon? Wow, I had no idea.

Wait, what? Why did Stockwin just identify Fulton as a Maryland man? Crap. That sucks. He's from LANCASTER. That's in PENNSYLVANIA, even if he was born just a stone's throw from the state line.


Also, talk about having your icons exploded. Not that I have a big case of hero worship for Robert Fulton or anything, but it's nice to have someone famous from home, y'know? Personally, while steamboats revolutionized so many things about 19th-century transportation, I look at them mostly as the thing that began the decline of tall sails and wooden ships. Phooey.

But then I read Invasion, and it all went to heck. You really want to see the beginning of the end of the Age of Sail? It's here, as Fulton begins plans for his revolutionary submarine and torpedo technology, against which those wooden frigates and sloops would have no defense.

I'm surprised Kydd -- who is, to be fair, acting under orders -- is so supportive of Fulton's work, even as he wrestles with the concept of blowing up ships and killing everyone aboard before those hapless sailors even know there's an enemy nearby.


If you read my review of the last book in the series, The Privateer's Revenge, you'll know of my prior disappointment. Invasion starts off with a great deal of promise, as Kydd is transferred from a backwater assignment to the front lines of naval defense against threats of immiment French invasion.

But then his pal Renzi, who is being shoehorned more and more into the role of Patrick's O'Brian's Dr. Maturin, begins work as a spy in Paris, using diplomatic credentials to try and woo Fulton away from his French allegiance. Then Kydd, who is supposedly renowned for his many successful actions against enemy ships, is pulled off the lines to play nursemaid to Fulton -- apparently for no better reason than he knows some Americans. It's not like there's going to be some kind of language barrier here, but OK.

And then it seems like the whole plan is going to flop, but Kydd decides to throw his weight -- and even his newfound fortune, if need be -- behind the project.

This is the same Kydd who, at the beginning of the book, decides he needs to become a gentleman so he can move in lordly circles, pays a man for elocution lessons and, VOILA! He's a gentleman. Even so, Kydd is a lowly commander of a brig-sloop, not a ship of the line or even a frigate, so one is somewhat surprised by the attention paid him by admirals and nobles alike in the course of this book.

But, mostly, it pains me to watch a man of the sea -- who has proven himself time and time again on the quarter deck -- pushing the switch toward the kind of indirect, impersonal warfare that has come to be the modern way of things.

This is not my favorite book in the series.

book review by
Tom Knapp

26 January 2013

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new