Julian Stockwin,
(Hodder & Stoughton/McBooks, 2010)

It's somewhat remarkable how much Commander Tom Kydd's fortunes change in the pages of Victory.

He begins the book in command of his beloved sloop Teazer, which conveniently sinks (in sight of land, and with an allied ship handily close by) so he can be cast ashore, bereft of command and feeling woeful ... until he checks his mail and learns, belatedly, that he's been promoted to the rank of post-captain and given command of a captured French frigate by none other than Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, with whom he fought at the Nile. (Historically speaking, Nelson had a fondness for officers who came up through the ranks, like Kydd, rather than being born into a noble family and handed a ship as a matter of course.)

There's a bit of unpleasantness when it comes to crewing his ship at a time when there was a desperate lack of suitable manpower, but Kydd manages to overcome that problem with only a slight ding to his conscience. Then it's off to join the fleet, bearding the great French ships in their den and chasing them to and fro across the Atlantic before finally arriving at a little place called Trafalgar.

This, the 11th novel in Julian Stockwin's ongoing Kydd series, crawls in places and flies through others. That's appropriate, given the mission at hand -- the British populace was terrified of a French invasion, and only the British fleet stood in its way. With most of the allied French and Spanish ships penned up in blockaded harbors, much of the duty of those seabound British tars involved tacking back and forth and keeping an eye on the harbor mouths to ensure no one snuck out.

Tedious at times, yes, but necessary to the effort.

Of course, Nelson was notorious for not being so patient, and he did what he could -- at times, simply by being absent -- to lure his enemies from port. At times he seemed successful, necessitating quite a lot of flying hither and yon to find the missing ships so they didn't get away.

Victory puts readers right smack in the middle of one of the most inspired sequences of fleet movements -- and probably the greatest sea battle of all time. Alas, Kydd as a frigate captain was not to be in the thick of the battle, and Stockwin tells portions of the tale through the eyes of Midshipman Bowden, formerly of the Teazer and now serving under Nelson, to bring the action closer to hand. The conceit feels a little forced, switching points of view for convenience and leaving the book's protagonist completely out of its climax.

Otherwise, though, this is a thoroughly enjoyable chapter in Kydd's life and a nice new perspective on Nelson's finest -- and final -- hours.

Oh, also in this book, Kydd's best friend Renzi moons about a bit because he's in love and can't bring himself to say so. Ho-hum.

book review by
Tom Knapp

23 March 2013

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