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By Julian Stockwin

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By Julian Stockwin
Thorndike Press - Large Print, (2001)
ISBN: 0-7862-3564-0
Genre: Adventure, Historical Fiction

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - April 26, 2002

Thomas Paine Kydd was a wig-maker in 18th century England, and he may have lived out his life in relative obscurity. Fate, however, had other things in mind for the young Mr. Kydd...

As the book opens, the year is 1793 and Britain and France are both eyeing each other through gun-sights. Needing men to man the mighty ships of the British Navy, many Captain's have found the need to resort to the onerous services of the press-gang. By this time, the press-gang had been officially outlawed. Legal or not, the result was the same. Once you were pressed, you became a member of His Majesty's Navy - often for life. Kydd is unfortunate enough to fall victim to a press-gang, and finds himself imprisoned on the Duke William, a British battle ship. He is given little choice but to submit to his new role. Failure to obey an order may be punishment from simply being whipped, to being hung.

To his surprise, Kydd finds that he is a natural born sailor, and he takes readily to his knew life. Were it not for the fact that it was a life forced upon him, he may have been content. But slavery, no matter how pleasant, is still slavery, and Kydd chafes under the rigid control of his masters.

In Thomas Kydd, Julian Stockwin has created a fascinating character, who is complex enough and intriguing enough to serve as the underpinning for the series she is planning on writing about Kydd's life in the British Navy. Like C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian, Kydd readily invokes the sights and sounds associated with sailing ships, and Stockwin puts you, straightaway, into Kydd's shoes, allowing you to feel, taste, and experience everything that he does. Although a strong book, Stockwin is not yet up to the standards set by Forester and O'Brian, but he shows great promise, and I fully expect his books to improve with each new exercise. When comparing Stockwin to the likes of Forester and O'Brian, one must also take into account that Forester did not write his Horatio Hornblower books in order. So it is impossible to directly compare the first book in the Hornblower series with the first book in the Kydd series.

Stockwin, who rose to the ranks of Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy, is well versed in the lore and perils that surround a life at sea. He brings to his writing an in-depth knowledge about naval life, and an obvious love for the sea. His writing is compelling, and it will transport you back to the days of the great sailing ships. Historically accurate, the narrative is infused with nautical terms, period jargon, and other tidbits of historically relevant material, which, when combined, help to create a clear and forceful picture of what Kydd's life on the Duke William (a.k.a. the Royal Billy) was like.

At its core, Kydd is an old-fashioned action - adventure story, that will have you daydreaming about climbing about the rigging, battling the enemy, and winning the accolades of your friends and superiors for your feats of bravado. Luckily, in daydreams, you get to skip all the drudgery of life at sea, the stale food, the long hours cleaning the deck and caring for equipment, and the draconian discipline that the men had to endure - facts of life which Stockwin readily admits to in the book. In the pages of this book, we witness how Kydd is transformed from a scared, timid wig-maker, into a vivacious, risk-taking sailor who goes on to win honor, and glory for his heroic actions.

This is a delightful and vividly engaging book. I'm eagerly looking forward to reading, Artemis, the next book in this series.

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