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)