The Thomas Kydd Novels

I’m on my second Thomas Kydd novel by Julian Stockwin, Artemis, and I must say that so far I am underwhelmed.

I’d planned on following that series in the same manner I have for Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie novels but at this point I’m not not sure I will go beyond the current novel.

My gripes thus far:

  • Basic inaccuracies concerning naval life of the time. Not niggling, picayune, obscure things but fairly basic things. Like, for instance, when a ship was in port the sailors received fresh food and the pursers had a financial stake in providing it.
  • A improbably fast learning curve for Kydd. In all novels the hero does things we can’t do but his actions are not improbable. Kydd goes from a pressed man to being rated as an Able Seaman in six months. Hard to believe.
  • Generally implausible occurrences. A sailor dies in the hold of a ship of the line and Kydd finds his decomposing body. Didn’t someone miss the guy before he started exuding a phosphorescent glow? A sailor is murdered in the hold of a ship of the line and, as far as we know, he’s never missed and never found. Kydd and a friend, the gentleman ranker (if I’m allowed to use the army term) Renzi, desert to a resupply ship. They recapture the ship from French privateers, etc., and are greeted by their captain, the same guy who had ordered Kydd flogged on an obviously trumped up charge, as if the were on some kind of a harmless lark. When the land attack they are accompanying is routed by the French who should they stumble upon but a former girlfriend of Renzi who saves them.
  • Plodding dialog.
  • Too many points of view. One of the downsides of using a common sailor as your hero is that the plot is circumscribed by what the narrator could realistically know. Stockwin evades this by regularly including other points of view in the story. I found Lambdin’s writing from the point of view of Napoleon and Lewrie’s nemesis Choundas to be annoying. Stockwin goes beyond that, in my view.
  • Kydd is a cypher. We know little about him and what we do learn is inconsistent. For instance, his sister seems to be both better educated and more cultured than he is.


Filed under Age of Sail, Thomas Kydd Novels

4 responses to “The Thomas Kydd Novels

  1. richardspilman

    I find a lot to like about Stockwin’s first Kydd novels. I also find a lot that annoys me. Stockwin writes well. The style and the characters engaged me but the bizarrely episodic plotting bothered me.

    Kydd’s acceptance of his lot as pressed man also seemed very odd. By the end of the first book he is a jolly Jack Tar. In the second book, Artemis, (the last one I’ve read,) Kydd has the opportunity to go home to his family (an unlikely scenario for a pressed man). He returns to his home and then does everything he can to return to sea. One wonders why they needed the press gang if pressed men were so willing to return.

    In Artemis, Stockwin also manages to screw-up the layout of the frigate’s deck, which I found easier to overlook than the character motivations and episodic quirks of the plot.

    Rick Spilman

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    • conaghan

      I’m afraid I agree with many of the critical comments.

      I’ve read the first five in the series, and I want to like them more than I do. The style is straightforward but somehow the writing is not felicitious. By the end of a typical volume, it’s as if I’ve accomplished an objective rather than had a compelling read.

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