Age of Sail / Book Review / Book Series / Julian Stockwin / Royal Navy / Thomas Kydd

Conquest, by Julian Stockwin

Conquest is the twelfth novel in Julian Stockwin’s excellent naval fiction series about Thomas Kydd, set in the Napoleonic age. This is a very interesting navy fiction series. First, it is very well researched and historically quite accurate. Second, the author knows the Royal Navy and life at sea very well – he is a retired Lieutenant Commander. And third, the hero is a man who has risen from the ranks – he started as a pressed man, a “landsman” knowing nothing about the sea and the ways of the navy – to become a Post Captain in the Royal Navy. That sets him apart from the other heroes of this genre and – to my mind – makes him especially interesting.

The action in Conquest takes place following the battle of Trafalgar, where the Royal Navy won one of the most important naval battles ever but also tragically lost its naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, who led the Royal Navy to this stunning victory. The Battle of Trafalgar also marks the beginning of a new age – the age of empire. Thus the title of this book: Conquest. We are at the beginning of an era of unprecedented imperialism, the dawn of the British Empire.

We follow Captain Thomas Kydd – an interesting and well-drawn character, an excellent leader and an ambitious officer – and his friend Nicolas Renzi as they embark on a very daring expedition to Africa. The goal of the mission is to capture Cape Town and establish a new British colony at the very strategically important southern tip of Africa. To do this, they must defeat the Dutch, who have controlled Cape Town for a long time, have built heavy fortifications, and have a large standing force there. Also, the Dutch are allied with the French, and the French have troops in Cape Town to aid the Dutch defenders.

Stockwin brilliantly links facts with fiction in this book. There is a lot of action, both on land and at sea. Conquest is very entertaining – in my opinion, one of the best books in the series so far. The description of the landing of the British forces and the ensuing battles is very good. So are the descriptions of the discussions of the military strategy and the many difficult choices the Army and Navy had to make in order to achieve their stunning victory.

In the book, we follow Captain Thomas Kydd and the crew of his 32-gun frigate L’Aurore from mission to mission. We also follow Renzi as he is appointed to a new, quite elevated position in the new British administration, and becomes the Colonial Secretary, assistant to the Governor. With this new position, he once more dares to start planning for a future for himself and his beloved. But often in life, things don’t go as planned…

This is excellent navy fiction. A very well written, well researched, and very entertaining novel. I greatly enjoyed it, even if I perhaps felt there was a little too much action on land. In my opinion, Julian Stockwin is so much better at handling maritime action than army action that it would be beneficial for the quality of the books if he focused more on that side of things. Even so – this is a wonderful read. I strongly recommend Conquest to all readers interested in navy fiction in particular, or excellent historical fiction in general!

Praise for Julian Stockwin:

‘Stockwin’s descriptions of the bloody reality of naval combat 200 years ago are memorably vivid’ Yorkshire Evening Post on VICTORY

‘A born storyteller and a man with a vivid imagination . . . his research is accurate and first class.’ Flagship on TREACHERY

‘More historically accurate than the Patrick O’Brian series’ (Royal Navy Sailing Association journal on the KYDD series )