Enjoyable story lines, average writing,
This review is from: Artemis: A Kydd Novel (Hardcover)As many of the other reviewers here, I am an avid fan of the nautical fiction genre; and, have read CS Forrester, Patrick OBrian, and many others, cover-to-cover. As such, I was excited to find 'Kydd' and 'Artemis' and a new series by a promising new author.
I enjoyed 'Kydd' just a little more than 'Artemis,' but liked both. The story lines are fun and engaging. The characters are decently drawn (although I am starting to find Renzi just a bit too implausible and contrived). The attention to detail is very high. And certainly, the twist of reading these stories from the point of view of a pressed man before the mast (as opposed to the usual point of view of an officer's) is educational. Although Stockwin isn't really breaking totally new ground here (I'd say Bernard Cornwell provided an ample path here with his 'Sharpe' novels), it's mostly a new wrinkle for those of us addicted to Aubrey/Maturin.
So, where does Stockwin fit in to the panoply of napoleonic-era historical fiction authors? I'd say mid-pack. The quality of writing is average. The character development is average. I'd put him in there with James Nelson and Dudley Pope; and even with Bernard Cornwell for that matter. Fun quick reads. Good stories with rousing action and interesting subject matter. But it's really not great literature.
In my opinion, Stockwin has a long way to go before he jumps up to the next tier in terms of writing ability. There's none of the magic, flowing prose of Patrick OBrian, nor any of the incredible mix of character, wit, and eloquence. There is a good story line and mostly decend prose. Like James Nelson, he gets a bit melodramatic at times. There's just a bit too much of the '...heart beating in his manly chest...' nonsense.
He also falls into one little trap that I find particularly annoying. Every page or so, he slips in the use of some overtly 'big' words. It feels like he's trying to impress us with his vocabulary:
"... he drew out a peculiar short coil of a black flexible substance, chased in leather at one end, and the other terminating in a knobby excrescence."
I'm not sure what an 'excrescence' is, but I feel that a more gifted writer would have found a more economical and effective way of describing a knotted leather whip. To my ears, this kind of thing just falls flat. There are many little examples of this throughout the two books. Do they ruin the stories? No. Do they make you wince a little bit as you're reading? Probably.
If you are looking for the 'topmast' of nautical fiction, look to OBrian, Marryat, Conrad. If you're looking for engaging adventures on the high seas and a fast easy read, definitely grab these new Stockwin novels. I recommend them despite their few faults. I hope new ones will keep coming and that the author grows as a writer.