by Julian Stockwin

Reviewed by David Maclaine

With Conquest Julian Stockwin continues his series of "Kydd Sea Adventures" under a title that pretty much gives away the results of the shoestring expedition upon which his hero is sent after the Battle of Trafalgar - but there's still plenty of suspense to keep readers glued to the pages. Napoleon's invasion plans have been shattered by that victory, which means that the far-flung empire of France and its allies is ripe for assault by the freed-up British navy. The first object of attack is Cape Town, controlled by the Dutch, and a key stop on the sea route to the Indies. Losses en route weaken the precariously small invasion force, and if the reader's knowledge of history and the clue of the title leave little doubt of the outcome, the story remains grippingly suspenseful, because it's so hard to foresee how the outnumbered invaders, thousands of miles from any reinforcement, can overcome the formidable obstacles in their path. After the improbable first success, looming threats remain from both the French by sea and unexpected enemies ashore. And while Thomas Paine Kydd pursues strange plots along the coast, his friend Renzi finds himself unexpectedly thrust into a position of power in the new administration. Eventually their paths will intersect at the point where the danger to the thinly garrisoned colony is most acute.

This twelfth novel of Julian Stockwin's superb series will be welcomed by his devoted readers, although the plotting is a shade below his finest. The best mysteries keep me baffled to the end, but on this occasion I quickly guessed which character was a spy. Also, the author relies a bit too much on amazingly precise good fortune to resolve the peril to a key figure, which pushes the climax toward melodrama. But the merits of Conquest outweigh these faults. With his usual mastery of detail, Stockwin vividly recreates a little-known episode of huge importance in the establishment of England's vast empire. (2011, 320 pages)

More about Conquest at Powell's Books or

Other novels set in South Africa:

The Only Victor by Alexander Kent (2000), about a British naval officer who sails to southern Africa to help retake Cape Town from the Dutch; #20 in the Richard Bolitho series. More info

Manly Pursuits by Ann Harries (1999), about a British ornithologist who contracts to bring 200 British songbirds to Capetown at the end of the nineteenth century. More info

Philida by André Brink (2013), about a slave woman in Capetown, South Africa, in 1832. More info

Nonfiction about the history of South Africa:

Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa by Martin Meredith (2007). More info

A History of South Africa by Leonard Thompson (3rd ed., 2001). More info

Cape Town: The Making of a City by Nigel Worden, Elizabeth Van Heyningen and Vivian Bickford-Smith (2011). More info


The History of Capetown at the Lonely Planet website

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