Stockwin, Julian. Tenacious.

Ithaca, NY: McBooks, 2006.

It’s 1798 and Thomas Paine Kydd, a wigmaker pressed into the Royal Navy only five years before and now junior lieutenant of an aging but still serviceable sixty-four, returns with his ship from Nova Scotia on the news that Gen. Buonaparte is readying an invasion of Britain. Of immediate concern, though, is the probable actions of the French fleet at Toulon. Britain was evicted from the Mediterranean awhile back and the French, with full freedom of movement now, could head east for the Levant or Constantinople (which would open up access to India), or west, to round Gibraltar,pick up the Spanish fleet at Cadiz and the rest of the French ships at Brest, where they would be well placed to act as backup in the invasion. Tom continues learning to be an effective officer, ordering and leading his division of the crew and looking after a promising young midshipman, and looking for opportunities to be noticed. Because he has discovered ambition and is set now on attaining his own command. But in many ways, the focus of this sixth volume in the series is Horatio, Lord Nelson, a junior admiral with a skyrocketing reputation and now detached to the Med in his first independent fleet command. The author does an excellent job of detailing the long chase from Toulon to Egypt to Malta to Sicily and back again to Alexandria as Nelson’s small fleet searches for the elusive French. The culmination, of course, is the Battle of the Nile, where Buonaparte’s navy is not just defeated by the British but nearly annihilated, leaving the general and his army stranded in the desert. Everyone has heard of Nelson at Trafalgar but Stockwin is correct in regarding the Nile as the greater and far more influential victory, and his depiction of the action is extremely good — especially the enormous explosion of L’Orient. The latter part of the story sees Kydd seconded ashore at Acre, where he becomes right-hand man to Sir Sydney Smith in the delaying siege that caused Buonaparte to abandon his army and sent him scurrying back to Paris. And Tom’s close friend, Renzi, who is far more than he seems to most other people, is called back to the family estate in England, where he finally resolves his own dilemma. In a way, the series is falling more and more into line with previous Napoleonic-era naval series, now that Kydd is a quarterdeck officer, but the author — whose grasp of his subject and the period has never been less than first-rate — also seems to have hit his stride as a storyteller. This is perhaps the best in the series so far.

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Published in: on 17 January 2010 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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