Betrayal, the thirteenth book in Julian Stockwin’s series about Thomas Kydd (A Kydd Sea Adventure), is set in 1806. Captain Kydd, with his beloved frigate L’Aurore, is stationed in Cape Town, which he took part in the capture of as chronicled in Conquest. For the moment there is little for Kydd and his crew to do in South Africa. There are some rumors that the French are keeping a naval force in the region, but that’s about it.
In fact, both Thomas Kydd and his commander, Commodore Popham, who is in charge of naval affairs in South Africa, are starting to fear that there is so little happening at this remote outpost that London will forget them – that the successful capture of Cape Town will be the unsuccessful end to their careers.
However, Captain Kydd and Commodore Popham are both very active and enterprising men. Perhaps even too active for their own good? Be that as it may; not long before the Cape Town adventure, Popham had been engaged in high-level talks and planning of several other possible British missions. An attack on the Argentinian city of Buenos Aires had been one of these ideas. Popham is of the opinion that the South American continent is full of discontent with the rule of the Spanish and that if only the British could secure a key location as a bridgehead and provide an opening for trade to and from the British Empire, the locals would quickly see the vast advantages in this and rise up against their Spanish masters.
Both Popham and Kydd understand that they are on a bit of thin ice here. They think it highly likely that London would say no to such an attack. If asked, that is. And both know that their orders – and this applies more to Popham, who is higher ranked – are that they are stationed in Cape Town. However, if it was possible to take Cape Town with limited naval and army resources, could not the same resources be deployed a second time, perhaps with equal success, on the other side of the ocean, against what seems to be virtually undefended Spanish possessions in South America? It is very tempting: Not only would a British conqueror of Buenos Aires most likely become a popular hero and be bestowed huge honors; there are also the enormous and well-known riches of the Southern American continent and the Spanish treasures to be considered…
Let me spend a couple of paragraphs in this review of Betrayal on some other things about this series. In the beginning, the two things that stood out about this series were that Kydd was a self-made man who had risen from the ranks, and the intriguing relationship between the somewhat mystical but obviously high-class Renzi and the plain Kydd. Over time, the impact of Kydd’s origin has become less and less important – as I believe it probably would in reality as well.
The relationship between Kydd and Nicolas Renzi, on the other hand, has become almost a nuisance, a tad peculiar and something which in a sense doesn’t fit in. To some extent, this is due to the fact that after resigning from his commission as an officer, there is no «natural place» for Renzi on the ship. If we compare for a moment with the other famous pair of friends in the Navy fiction literature, Aubrey and Maturin, this is perhaps easier to see. Stephen Maturin had a place on the ship as a ship surgeon (albeit a peculiar one). But why is Renzi on board? What does he do, exactly? The relationship between these two main characters is still a little fragile and odd, but it seems possible after this book that it now can move forward on a new footing. We will perhaps learn more in the next installment.
Overall, I liked this installment in the Thomas Kydd series and felt it moved the series forward in the right direction. The beginning of Betrayal, especially the description of the naval action in Africa, is excellent and very evocative. I didn’t know anything about the attack described in this book and found it very interesting to read about. Not exactly the proudest moment in the history of the Royal Navy and the British Empire, to be sure. Even so, a tale I was interested to read, told in a nice understated manner. I recommend Betrayal – it’s a great novel.