Julian Stockwin – Betrayal

Cape Colony is proving a tiresome assignment for Captain Kydd’s daring commander-in-chief, Commodore Popham. Rumours that South America’s Spanish colonies are in a ferment of popular unrest, and of a treasure hoard of silver, spur him to assemble a makeshift invasion fleet and launch a bold attack on the capital of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate, Buenos Aires.

Navigating the treacherous bars and mud flats of the river, the British invasion force lands and wins a battle against improbable odds, taking the capital and the silver. But nothing is as simple as it seems in this region of the world: the uprising that will see the end of Spanish rule never arrives and the locals begin to see dark conspiracies behind the invader’s actions. Soon the tiny British force finds itself surrounded by an ever more hostile population. The city begins to revolt against its liberators.

Now Kydd’s men must face fierce resistance and the betrayal of their closest allies. Can they save themselves, and their prize?

As I mentioned in my review of David Wesley Hill’s At Drake’s Command, I have a soft spot for nautical adventure tales as they form some of my earliest childhood memories with my dad. Julian Stockwin’s Betrayal is another one such, a rousing tale of the high seas and the battle for Buenos Aires in 1806; it fits right in with the tales my dad read to me. Betrayal is the thirteenth tale in Stockwin’s series about Thomas Kydd, intrepid sailor and courageous and well-loved leader of his men. Despite of this, it was easily accessible to a reader newly come to this series and Stockwin manages to refer to earlier entries in the series without making the reader feel as if they’ve missed out on critical information for this story.

Central to the story is Captain Thomas Kydd, captain of the frigate L’Aurore. At the beginning of the book we find him stationed at the Cape of Good Hope, newly conquered by the British and life is settling down to a rather sedate routine. He’s introduced as an honourable man, but an ambitious one and languishing in port without the chance to gain distinction for himself and thus advance his career is making him restless. So when his commander, Commodore Popham, comes to him with a bold and not quite legal plan to win themselves glory and treasure and a way out of being stationed at the Cape, it’s easy to see why he agrees to take part. While Kydd tries to belay his conscience and ignore any implications that Popham’s motives might be anything but honourable, Stockwin slowly has him realise that perhaps Popham isn’t everything Kydd believes him to be. This is partly due to Popham’s own behaviour and the warnings given by Kydd’s best friend and secretary Renzi, but also due to Kydd’s disillusion when the invasion goes sour and he loses more and more good men needlessly.

Kydd’s relationship with Renzi and the rest of his men was wonderfully portrayed and in fact, the entire portrayal of the sailors was amazingly well done, which shouldn’t be surprising given Stockwin’s own distinguished career in the Navy. I loved the sailor’s salty language and the dialogues peppered with nautical terms, some of which were explained in a glossary, while others had to be understood from their context. It was an honest portrayal of the British Jack Tars, not bowdlerised, but also refraining from the crudeness often associated with sailors of any age. My favourite sailors were Lieutenant Clinton and Stirk, the gunner’s mate. They were the two that stood out from the crew and I especially appreciated Clinton’s development while they were in action on Buenos Aires.

The one thing that bothered me was the character of Renzi. While he does have some decisive actions in the plot and I liked him as a character, there is an entire story arc about him writing a novel, which while entertaining, didn’t really seem to serve any purpose in the story other than to keep him conveniently out from underfoot for large stretches of the narrative. Perhaps the novel will be an element in a future instalment; I hope it will be, because even if the philosophising on the craft of writing was interesting, otherwise it was a giant filler plotline. Other than the aforementioned novel plotline, the story is tightly plotted and moves at a fair clip.

Betrayal was an entertaining read, which also showed me something of history I didn’t know. Making Thomas Kydd’s acquaintance was a pleasure and one I hope to renew in the future. I’ll definitely be getting my dad a copy of the first novel in this series, as he loves a rousing nautical tale. If you like those as well, then Betrayal is definitely a book you’ll enjoy.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.