Julian Stockwin,
Kydd #5: Quarterdeck
(Hodder & Stoughton, 2004; McBooks, 2005)

Tom Kydd, promoted to a lieutenant's post at the end of Mutiny -- undeservedly so, if you remember his actual level of involvement in the great Nore mutiny, as opposed to the false testimony that not only saved him from hanging but elevated him to hero status -- is in danger of failing his lieutenant's exam when Quarterdeck begins.

If he fails the test, his field promotion will be reversed and he'll go back to a sailor's life. But a friendly captain on the examination board tosses him an easy question, and his new rank is confirmed.

This is, perhaps, an example of the greatest weakness in Julian Stockwin's otherwise excellent series of seafaring adventures. Kydd is just so durned nice, apparently, that everyone he meets wants to lend him a hand and advance his position in life.

On the other hand, he's so awesomely good at everything he does, it's a wonder he's not captain of his own ship yet. And that's the problem: Kydd either excels at whatever he tries, or else someone gives him some subtle assistance, and the readers is left wondering if he ever really had to work at anything in his life.

It doesn't help that he spends so much time in a foul mood or generally bemoaning his fate. Dude, you have a good thing going here, try to enjoy it.

That's a long way around my basic premise, which is that the Kydd series makes for excellent reading, and Quarterdeck is a great chapter in this English seaman's life. I love these books, but this one flaw keeps nagging at the back of my head with every turn of the page.

Otherwise, Stockwin has proven his amazing knowledge of the nautical life in the late 18th century, and he places Kydd in circumstances that make fascinating reading. Challenges in Quarterdeck range from an escort mission across the Atlantic, diplomacy and subterfuge in the United States and even his own personal task of finding a long-lost uncle in the Nova Scotian wilderness. He even has the opportunity to sail aboard the new American frigate Constellation, the first of the new nation's fledgling navy.

He does run into a few sticky spots -- for instance, no one likes him in the small Connecticut town where he first comes ashore, and he is resented by the American officers and crew on Constellation -- but as usual, everyone decides they really like him after all, within a day or two.

Kydd's circumstances once are once again altered by the end of Quarterdeck, and -- niggling complaint aside -- I'll be eager to see where his next voyage takes him.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Tom Knapp

11 September 2010

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