There are two things in the world I really love: a.) Aubrey and b.) Maturin. I love them so much that ever since I first stepped onto their quarterdeck and a.) shook Aubrey's hand and b.) threw my arms around Stephen, I have been trying my darndest to find another nautical series that will throw me for the loop they did.
And where have I been and in what strange, exotic waters? Think Frederick Marryatt ( whose name I never spell correctly ), C.S. Forester, Nathaniel Drinkwater, Dewey Lambdin, Alexander Kent and Julian Stockwin ( to name a few ).
And out of the dozens of nautical authors I have read since ( do not ask me to name all of them: I even read through Jonathan Lunn's Killigrew books---a hybrid of mystery and age-of-sail), I have never found my replica. How do you repeat perfection?
Well. Definitely not with Julian Stockwin. Yes, that sounds harsh. But, the irony is, he is the one author of the aforementioned I have followed from the beginning. Now, the seventh book, Command, has recently closed on my nighttable and I am left to ponder the question I always ponder ( atleast through the last seven Stockwins ) Why do I keep reading them? Why do I make sure I order them around publication date and eventually devote a sitting just to them? Someone could easily assert they are bad O'Brian cliches, that even the CHARACTERS are bad O'Brian cliches ( Renzi the philosopher who skulks moodily in a wavy purgatory to compensate for an ancient family sin), that the writing oozes out in such a forced manner that one is put in mind of Jennifer Connelly's sloppy speech in A Beautiful Mind: the film that made me realize people ACHE for Oscar's oft reflected in sentimentalized screenplay.
And the answer I found as I tripped through Kydd's bad dialogue ( I loathe the accented dialect Stockwin tries so hard to give him), the major lack of Renzi, his reappearance, his token " I love Cecilia what to do" scene and the choppy battle sequences was this:
Because I genuinely like Julian Stockwin. I have never met him. I know little about him... save that he served in the navy and donated a scrap of historical wood to a darling little bookshop in Halifax. Yet, I really do like him. I liked him from the moment I first read his author note (Aside: I love author notes. See CC Humphreys for guidance on these as a craft) which was steeped with humility and excitement. He and his wife are thrilled to be writing these books. He is living a dream. He obviously researches impeccably and has first-hand experience to boot.
Further, he started with a generally refreshing take on the world of nautical wonder. Thomas Kydd is pressed into service and learns the ropes and gleefully steps up in the nautical world and a myriad of adventures as he learns to love the sea in the way O'Brian taught the world to.
I see this parallel in Julian Stockwin. After the demise of the master, O'Brian, publishers must have been scrambling over each other to find the next star. Who wouldn't stumble upon Kydd and Renzi? Their friendship, indeed the whole Sharpe-ish climb from the bottom to the top of the mizzen mast seeps with potential.
Aye, but therein lies the problem. I finished book seven and am still flabberghasted by the potential.
This one proved more strongly than others that perhaps this infamous potential may someday be fully realized, but until Stockwin decides exactly what he wants to do and the stories do not seem like a work-out of a revised draft, I will have to close them again and again waiting for next year and admit, as always, that I really really like Julian Stockwin. I just wish I could say the same about his books.