As with previous Kydd tales, this new book includes a technology item and the reader will learn the part ‘camels’ can play in raiding an enemy camp. The storm at sea will also introduce many readers to a type of storm peculiar to the Indian Ocean. There are the important highs and lows as the story unfolds and it seems that Renzi may at last be closing in on marriage and a new career as a novelist.
NAME: Conquest, The Race for Empire Begins
CLASSIFICATION: Book reviews
AUTHOR: Julian Stockwin
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton
BINDING: Hard back
PRICE: GB £18.99
SUBJECT: Kydd, Renzi, Cape Town, Simons Town, Boer, Xhosa, Napoleonic Wars, South Africa, trade routes, East India Company, Royal Navy, frigate
DESCRIPTION: Stockwin has achieved another first with this book, and successfully made the jump from the traditions of fictional stories set in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. To appreciate the scale of the jump, the reader has to start with the first Stockwin story. It also creates a challenge for a reviewer because, to do full justice to this latest story, the context of this new episode is important to the tale itself and the books that are promised for the future. In the first book in the series, Stockwin drew in part from his own experiences in the Royal Navy in migrating from the seaman’s mess to the wardroom, and in part from careful research into the Navy of Nelson and the press gang. He added into that creation of Thomas Kydd, a very original character of Renzi, a young aristocrat who had turned his back on his family to serve as a volunteer common seaman. That broke the tradition, of starting a sailing navy story by creating the hero of the stories as a young midshipman, and it worked very well. It also told a story that reflected the long traditions in the Royal Navy of raising outstanding sailors to the wardroom and of recognizing that in the real Navy, sailors came from many countries outside the British Isles. Forester’s “Hornblower” set the original traditions for novelists with the hero migrating rapidly from midshipman to Commodore or Admiral. By starting his hero on the lower deck, Stockwin had greater freedom in charting a credible, but original, progress for Kydd and, by creating a brother in arms in Renzi to follow a separate but interlocking career, a further freedom was introduced. Since the first story in the series, the two leading characters have matured and new layers of their personalities have been exposed. Up to the Battle of Trafalgar, the stories nicely dovetailed together into an unfolding narrative. Trafalgar then presented the same challenge that it has presented to every author developing a fictional story line based on the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Trafalgar presents many challenges to writers because it is such a strong and iconic point in British Naval history. Nelson was a character larger than life. He may have had his flaws as a human being, but as a naval commander he was unique and he had the historic good fortune to die in the moment of his greatest triumph, appropriately on a ship called Victory. That created a myth and legend to long survive him. It is easy to believe that he will live forever amongst the handful of great military leaders through millennia. However, his place in history means that every year new non-fiction books emerge that expose new aspects of Nelson and the story of Trafalgar to join a huge library of earlier books from an army of historians. The battle, the commander, the captains and the battleships have been picked over in fine detail. Collectors have developed and maintained the nelsonian legend by devoting their lives to collecting artefacts. One Norfolk collector built an agricultural engineering business, but devoted much of his free time to collecting Nelsonian memorabilia that on his death formed an important part of a major new museum at Great Yarmouth, a port with strong connections to Nelson and in the county of his birth, the new museum appropriately being housed in a former Royal navy hospital of the Napoleonic Wars. That makes it difficult to infiltrate fictional characters that are credible. Stockwin was aided by the fact that his heroes sailed on a minor warship that could be included in the British Fleet credibly. It also avoided one of the traps of building the series up to Trafalgar and then having nowhere else to go. Trafalgar did not end the war at sea, but it made it very difficult for the French to deploy a significant fleet and it marked the beginning of the end for Napoleon. The war may have continued for a further decade until the final battle was fought at Waterloo, but Trafalgar made the end inevitable and created the dominance of the seas by the Royal Navy for a Century that created the greatest Empire yet to emerge, providing a market for the products of the Industrial Revolution and the raw materials to feed that revolution. The huge importance of the Royal Navy is largely unrecorded after Trafalgar until the Twentieth Century wars against German expansion. Stockwin is now starting to redress the situation in his latest Kydd story. The taking of Cape Town was an immensely important, but largely forgotten, achievement for British Arms. It secured the shipping routes to Australia, the Pacific and the China Sea. It also provided the security to seize French colonies and to take over the expansion that might otherwise have gone to Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. Historians may argue about the percentages, but the British Empire and its former American colonies, at the height, represented half the population of the world, more than half of the landmass, and made English the international language that is still expanding as the language of commerce. “Conquest” develops further the principle characters, presents an historically important campaign and provides a very entertaining drama that keeps the reader turning pages to the end, where there is desire to read the next episode that hopefully emerges in 2012. The question is – where will the next story lead? As the bi-centennial of the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, Kydd could return to the Americas or the Caribbean, but then there are many neglected campaigns of a rapidly growing British Empire to recount and the part British sailors played in the South American wars of independence “Conquest sets a high bar for the stories yet to come. As with previous Kydd tales, this new book includes a technology item and the reader will learn the part ‘camels’ can play in raiding an enemy camp. The storm at sea will also introduce many readers to a type of storm peculiar to the Indian Ocean. There are the important highs and lows as the story unfolds and it seems that Renzi may at last be closing in on marriage and a new career as a novelist. Existing Kydd enthusiasts will not be disappointed with this latest episode and the readership will expand further as it has at each stage since the first story some ten years ago. For new readers, the good news is that they can still acquire all the earlier tales and there are more stories to come. Stockwin originally expected to write no more than ten books but now realizes that he may have achieved that point and still be only half way through the saga.