Thunderer (Thomas Kydd 24)

Written by Julian Stockwin
Review by Ray Thompson

Europe, 1812. Napoleon has assembled an army over half a million strong. Will he invade England? Or Russia?

This is the 24th novel in the Thomas Kydd naval series, which follows his career from pressed man at the start of the Napoleonic Wars. By now his dazzling successes as a fighting captain aboard frigates have earned him fame, knighthood, and captaincy of a 74-gun ship of the line. Though unenthusiastic at the shift in command, he decides to make the best of the opportunities it presents despite the challenges: devastating storms, dangerous foes, and the resentment of crewmen and superior officers who believe he was unfairly promoted. These he overcomes through a combination of tenacity and initiative, skill, and good luck as he sails from blockade duty in the Bay of Biscay to escorting convoys in the Baltic Sea and attacking enemy ships along the way. He even transports the Russian Tsar Alexander to negotiate an agreement with the Swedish crown prince.

The extensive descriptions of conditions aboard ships and the use of specialized naval terminology and jargon may confuse some readers, but it also builds a vividly realized world in which they can become deeply involved. It isn’t long before the plot starts to move at a more urgent pace, and though it slows when the focus shifts to wider political developments, these do provide a valuable context for the action sequences.

In the light of recent events, reading a novel about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia inevitably evokes another level of irony, as one contemplates similarities to and differences from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thought-provoking and strongly recommended, especially to those who enjoy books of high adventure set in the age of fighting sail.