The fiction genre "Sea Stories" may be the oldest genre traced back to Homer's Odyssey and continued under full sail with Cooper, Dana's Two Years Before The Mast, Marryat's Midshipman Easy (1836), Melville, London and Conrad to the Patrick O'Brian books. Although definitely not one of the favorites with the current "PC" or "trendy" set, with the later added historical dimension, its continued popularity will probably endure long after the "hot" genres/subgenres have sunk to Davy Jones's locker. Drama, bravery, honor, duty, action, derring-do, adventure, challenge of leadership, heroism, war, history--what's not to like?
Although most historical sea tales are set during the golden age of sail, 18th and early 19th centuries, or during the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, all historical periods are represented including World War II and even today's navy. With women now on board, I'm waiting for a female fiction character to take the helm along with contemporary sea captains such as David Poyer's Dan Leeson. Why interest in boats and water? It is really quite simple. Mankind is surrounded by it and 70 percent plus of the planet is covered with it!
It's 1793 and young wig-maker, Thomas Paine Kydd, is impressed (kidnapped) into the British navy. Initially, he is resentful wishing to return to land. Surprisingly, he discovers he has a naval knack for seamanship and begins to like and appreciate the challenge, action, and sense of accomplishment of being a "Jack Tar." Along with Thomas, the reader experiences a captivating basic tutorial of life aboard an 18th century warship from thunderous broadsides to boarding to "cutlass" combat. Could you, like Thomas, become a rated "Able Seaman"?
However, unjustly punished with lashes of the "cat" rekindles the resentment of his forced predicament: "There was the rub -- Kydd might have been provoked, he might have been an innocent outraged, but he had been seen in front of others to have held his superior in contempt...It couldn't be happening -- his world spun around him...' Twelve lashes,' the Captain said, distantly."
Thomas, along with a French fellow sailor desert & stow away on a merchantman but quickly find themselves having to choose fleeing to the colonies or defending England, and perhaps, either be hung from the yardarm or pardon and rewarded.
Traditionally, the swashbuckling sea tale's main characters are midshipmen, officers, or scions of the upper class ala Kent's "Richard Bolitho" (Complete midshipman Bolitho, 1975--19 in the series), Dudly Pope's "Lord Ramage." (Ramage, 1965--18 in series), "Alan Lewrie" (17 in series beginning with 1989 King Coat), and, of course, "Lucky" Jack Aubrey (Master & Commander). However, Stockwin's main character is just an "impressed" common sailor -- closest might be Woodman's "Nathaniel Drinkwater" character who was born lower class and poor.
Kydd is the first of now ten novels in the "Thomas Kydd" naval series. The uninformed may be skeptical that a common seaman could rise up through the Royal navy ranks? The author did his research. During the twenty two years of naval combat against the French in the late 18th and early 19th century, at least 120 sailors rose to officer rank including twenty captains and three admirals! Others, I'm sure, refuse to accept such heroic exploits as realistic unaware that Hornblower and the rest of the Sea Tale crew were largely based on real historical people such as Lord Cochrane (see recent biography: Cochrane: The Real Master And Commander by Cordingly) 251 pages.
Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, high school librarian