Julian Stockwin,
(McBooks, 2014)

Most of the time, Julian Stockwin's series of Thomas Kydd adventures is just so darn cheerful.

Sure, a life at sea during the war between England and France is no picnic for a British sailor, but Kydd manages to rise through the ranks quickly and relatively unscathed by everything he experiences. (In earlier books, for instance, he was able to come out of a mutiny without consequence, and when his fiancee died, she was such a one-dimensional character that we couldn't feel terribly bad about it. As comparison, I'd offer the tear-jerking death of Richard Bolitho's fiancee in Alexander Kent's Passage to Mutiny.)

In Pasha, Kydd -- a lowly wigmaker before he ran afoul of a press gang and rose quickly from seaman to ship's captain -- is knighted by the king. Almost simultaneously, his closest friend, Renzi, returns home to find his manuscript published (and making a fortune), his sweetheart (Kydd's sister, no less) ready and eager to marry, and his despised father dead, elevating him to a lordship. Before he has time to grow bored from the mundane duties of manor life, however, he's tapped to become an agent for the king -- at which he proves unsurprisingly adept -- and is sent off to Constantinople. Of course, Kydd has already been sent to the exact same region, for different reasons.

Everything is coming up roses for our heroes.

Well, there's a perilous passage through the Dardanelles, the narrow, heavily guarded straits protecting Constantinople, and there are the Ottoman and Russian fleets and massive Turkish cannons to contend with -- to say nothing of French agents campaigning for Bonaparte's interests and a well-meaning sultan whose passion for the arts and modern reforms aren't entirely popular with his people.

The British navy doesn't come out all that well in this book, although Kydd and his loyal crew account themselves very well, particularly in a daring moonlit voyage up-river under menacing Turkish guns. There's more intrigue than action this time around, although -- conveniently -- much of the upheaval that takes place at the sultan's court occurs within view of Renzi's window.

But in the end it's a pleasant book that gives us likable heroes and a peek at some little-known historic events that played an important role in the British war effort. It's a good read.

book review by
Tom Knapp

4 March 2017

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