Reviewed by David Maclaine
In Quarterdeck, fifth in an engaging series on the adventures of a former tradesman pressed into the royal navy, Thomas Paine Kidd completes another huge step in his ascent from the rank of common seaman. The novel begins with a challenging exam to secure Kydd’s place as an officer in the Royal Navy, but the uncertainty over that enormous step is nothing compared to his rising doubt whether he can survive the pressure of life among gentlemen colleagues whose command of etiquette he will never master. Naturally, it becomes the task of his friend Renzi, a high-born idealist serving a sort of penance in the navy, to try to teach Kydd how to avoid career-crippling social gaffes. But when the ship on which Kydd serves as signal officer takes station in Nova Scotia, an alternative arises. With England and France at war, the fledgling United States is striving to remain neutral. Embroiled in the complex relations between England and America, Kydd soon finds himself serving as an advisor to the newly formed American navy, and tempted by the prospect of shifting his allegiance. His fate will hinge on the presence in Nova Scotia of a royal prince and his mistress, and on his own naïve good nature.
As always in this series, action and adventure fill the pages. There is a bloody fight in open boats, a difficult rendezvous in the face of a dreadful storm, and some sly sabotage that ends a long duel between warships. Kydd must play, variously, the role of diplomat, secret agent - and even detective, when he tries to discover the fate of a long-lost uncle. Although Quarterdeck offers fewer pitched sea battles than other books in the series, the hero’s many intriguing dilemmas and Stockton’s splendid descriptions of the quaint locale held my attention from first page to last. (2005, 320 pages)More about Quarterdeck at Powell's Books or Amazon.com