“Aft the more honour
Forward the better man”
As Dave Olson put it when reviewing Kydd, by Julian Stockwin (Scribner, 2001; 256 pages) in the September 2001 issue of Good Old Boat: “I miss Patrick O’Brian.” Dave’s context was that he had completed the 20-book O’Brian series and was in sore need of something to “fill the void.” In his estimation Kydd — and the books to surely follow — would again fill his literary hold. I, too, miss Patrick O’Brian.
But unlike Dave, I had only advanced to the fourth book in the O’Brian series when provided the opportunity to review Artemis and Seaflower, installments two and three in the Stockwin Napoleonic-era series. I started my read at the beginning, of course, with Kydd. And what a read it’s been! Having also read all of C.S. Forester’s Hornblower books, I can say that Stockwin is first-rate seafaring fare. Not necessarily better, certainly not worse, but assuredly excellent.
In Artemis, Thomas Paine Kydd, a pressed sailor having earlier endured the title of “grass combin’ bastard,” is now rated able seaman in the Royal Navy. Along with his mysterious friend, Nicholas Renzi, who is in self-imposed exile, he is assigned to the crack frigate Artemis. They soon see action with the French frigate, Citoyenne, followed by a return to Portsmouth for refit. While in England, Kydd gets caught up in family struggles, his sea life fading into the past as his pigtails fall to the floor. Rescued by Renzi’s intellect, Kydd’s family issues are resolved, enabling him to return to Artemis. Driven by storms, lust, and cannibalism, Artemisand her crew find their way to India, the South Pacific, and ultimately around the world. Artemis achieves fame and infamy; Kydd becomes petty officer.