Thomas Paine Kydd. Arrr, matey, there's a name to hang a man for sure. In this delightful first installment in a new series in the tradition of Patrick O'Brian, Kydd is a bright lad pressed into the service of his majesty (Farmer George, the Madness himself) on the ship-of-the-line Duke William. It's 1793, and England is on the brink of war with the French. In what seems almost a day-by-day account, we follow Kydd from his nightmarish introduction to naval life to his promotion to ordinary seaman. Befriended first by Joe Bowyer, a simple, honest sailor who teaches him the ropes, Kydd later makes the acquaintance of Nicholas Renzi, a cultivated-looking man with a secret. Camaraderie, grog and pride in their work is all the sailors have to ease the hardship of life on board ship. It's a rough life, and Stockwin skillfully makes readers share the pain and tedium of it, but this is more than a historical adventure tale: it is the story of the education of a young man. Stockwin, who joined the Royal Navy at 15 and retired a lieutenant commander, knows his ships and his men as well as his historical era. Kydd, a strong, ordinary sort with a mind of his own, is a convincing character and so are his shipmates. The jargon comes thick and fast, so much so that the book would have benefited from a glossary—a ship's diagram would have come in handy, too. But the skim of the story and the depth of the characterizations will ease readers past any obscure terms. Agent, Stuart Krichevsky.(June)
Forecast: Less literary than O'Brian, more atmospheric than Hornblower and more realistic than Lamdin, this promising series will need a bit of a push at first, but should pick up steam in the long run.
Release date: 06/01/2001