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Thomas Paine Kydd. Arrr, matey, there's a name to hang a man for sure. In this delightful first installment in a new series in the tradition of Patrick O'Brian, Kydd is a bright lad pressed into the service of his majesty (Farmer George, the Madness himself) on the ship-of-the-line Duke William. It's 1793, and England is on the brink of war with the French. In what seems almost a day-by-day account, we follow Kydd from his nightmarish introduction to naval life to his promotion to ordinary seaman. Befriended first by Joe Bowyer, a simple, honest sailor who teaches him the ropes, Kydd later makes the acquaintance of Nicholas Renzi, a cultivated-looking man with a secret. Camaraderie, grog and pride in their work is all the sailors have to ease the hardship of life on board ship. It's a rough life, and Stockwin skillfully makes readers share the pain and tedium of it, but this is more than a historical adventure tale: it is the story of the education of a young man. Stockwin, who joined the Royal Navy at 15 and retired a lieutenant commander, knows his ships and his men as well as his historical era. Kydd, a strong, ordinary sort with a mind of his own, is a convincing character and so are his shipmates. The jargon comes thick and fast, so much so that the book would have benefited from a glossary a ship's diagram would have come in handy, too. But the skim of the story and the depth of the characterizations will ease readers past any obscure terms. Agent, Stuart Krichevsky. (June) Forecast: Less literary than O'Brian, more atmospheric than Hornblower and more realistic than Lamdin, this promising series will need a bit of a push at first, but should pick up steam in the long run. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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