This is the third stand alone book from best selling author Julian Stockwin. His Thomas Kydd stories, set in the maritime battles of the Napoleonic Wars, have developed a huge international following. This new stand alone book is very different in many respects and has managed to provide a gripping tale of Medieval life with the story of gunpowder. It is a Stockwin page turner that further enhances his reputation. This is not a book to miss, with its thrills and spills, joys and sorrows, another best seller.
NAME: The Powder of Death
AUTHOR: Julian Stockwin
PUBLISHER: Allison & Busby
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Gunne, canone, gunne powder, Han, Mongol, Friar Roger Bacon, gunsmiths, blacksmith, bronze casting, Medieval warfare, Edward III
DESCRIPTION: This is the third stand alone book from best selling author Julian Stockwin. His Thomas Kydd stories, set in the maritime battles of the Napoleonic Wars, have developed a huge international following. This new stand alone book is very different in many respects and has managed to provide a gripping tale of Medieval life with the story of gunpowder.It is a Stockwin page turner that further enhances his reputation. This is not a book to miss, with its thrills and spills, joys and sorrows, another best seller.
Stockwin began his writing, after a life of experiences, with his first Thomas Kydd novel. His own experiences from boy seaman to Lt Cmdr, including service in the Royal Australian Navy on carriers during the Vietnam War, provided a seam of experience that matched the saga of Thomas Kydd, a young wig maker seized by the Press Gang, rising through the ranks to commission and command. As these stories have developed, with Kydd and his co-hero Renzi, they have not only entertained and enthralled millions, but they have established Stockwin as one of the handful of great writers of naval fiction. The considerable sales have not only followed each new release, but brought in new readers who have then purchased copies of all the previous episodes of the Kydd/Renzi sagas.
What has characterized the Kydd/Renzi yarns is a thorough research for each story and has included at least one piece of technology in each book. Stockwin obviously enjoys his research stage as much as the writing of the new tale and it has taken him to all the areas where Nelson’s Navy performed so well. Inevitably it has produced information that can either not be included in the current novel, or has to be dealt with as an important element that tells only a part of the overall story. This is a fact of life for most authors, but they usually file the under-used research away and move on to the next story in their preferred genre. Stockwin has wisely decided to do better and this is very welcome because it has provided books that relate to his Kydd/Renzi tales but cover very new ground and are written in a style that matches the new set of topics.
The first stand alone book was a compendium of nautical information, Stockwin’s Maritime Miscellany . It is fascinating in its own right, but it also very nicely complements the Kydd and Renzi sagas, providing detail that could not be easily embedded in a novel. Although sales of this book found new readership, many were acquired by Kydd/Renzi fans to add to their knowledge of technology and practices. The second stand alone, The Silk Tree , was a delightful story of the importance of silk and its arrival in Europe. The characters were fresh and multi-layered, with a trilling account of how the fictional characters faced their trials and rewards. It was well-paced and added an entirely new dimension to Stockwin’s writing.
In this new book, Stockwin has set it against one of a handful of genuinely world changing events. The discovery of gunpowder, and its use mainly as a form of entertainment in the Far East, was perhaps not life changing, but its deployment as a bomb hurled at fortifications was the start of a giant leap forward in military equipment and deployment. Stockwin has cleverly combined several separate European developments in a single story written around the main character. In the process, he has produced a thrillingly entertaining story of depth that also contains a great deal of information about gunpowder and the Medieval development of the gun.
Interestingly, he has followed another great naval adventure writer, Dudley Pope, who decided to write a stand alone book, Guns. The difference is that Dudley Pope decided to write a non-fiction account of the development of guns, from the first through the generations of new firearms to include modern weapons. Published in 1965, it is now long out of print but for those prepared to search diligently a copy may be found in specialist book shops. His fictional Ramage stories are also well-worth searching out. Stockwin has taken the fictional route and that has provided the scope for his enthralling story telling.
Nobody is really sure how old the discovery of gunpowder is. It was certainly well established in the Han before the Medieval period and it was used with the addition of other materials to produce fireworks of varying types and vivid colours. It is also uncertain when it first came to Europe. There are some accounts in Viking sagas that could suggest a knowledge and use of fireworks. The Vikings were accomplished technologists who travelled far and served as bodyguards in foreign courts. They also developed technology of their own which is now lost. The sun stone was a key piece of their navigational technology but we have not the faintest idea of exactly what it was, or how it worked. The fragments of saga could as easily refer to a unique discovery that had similar entertainment properties but would never have produced a material that could be used as a propellant of tube-fired missiles. Friar Bacon has left accounts that show he had direct knowledge of gunpowder and there have been a number of other documents from the same period that suggest the knowledge was more widespread. Somewhere, someone discovered how to make guns and use the powder as a propellant which is still available today for those enthusiasts firing muzzle-loading pistols and rifles, although many prefer modern propellants to black powder. At that point, it became a world changing discovery. However, the Church regarded those producing and using it as alchemists and heretics and it took years of trial and error to find truly effective gun designs that were also practical weapons of war that could be included in military tactics.
At this point the reviewer always has to walk the delicate line between providing an account of his or her impressions of reading the book, without ruining the magic of discovery for the reader.
Stockwin has produced a roller coaster ride with the hero facing all sorts of challenges and overcoming them to take forward his belief in the future for gunpowder. There is rich description of village life, life in towns and ports, sea travel and the life of armies at war. The hero travels far and wide in a series of adventures, survives set backs and eventually triumphs. It is a great tale that carries the reader along with it.
Stockwin has announced that he will be writing more stand alone books and doubling his output of Kydd/Renzi tales, a formidable task. It is to be hoped that he will achieve this and that there will be more treats like The Powder of Death yet to come.
Go out and buy a copy and enjoy. Then start working your way through the other books from Julian Stockwin. This can become addictive, so be warned.