For a man of war, peacetime is the ultimate challenge.
Leaving behind them a Europe still taking stock after the definitive battle of Waterloo, Jack Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin set sail for Chile. But even with the newly minted peace, life at sea remains beset with danger and imminent disaster, and the political turmoil of the South American continent is equal to any threat they have yet faced.
Out of loss – of purpose, of love – can the two friends rescue what they most desire?
‘Beyond his superbly elegant writing, wit and originality, [O’Brian] showed an understanding of the nature of a floating world at the mercy of the wind and sea which has never been surpassed.’
MAX HASTINGS, Evening Standard
‘From the opening page I was addicted to what I judge to be one of the greatest cycles of storytelling in the English language.’
WILLIAM WALDEGRAVE, Daily Telegraph
‘If O’Brian’s novels have become a cult, this is because they are truly addictive. . . They are, quite magnificently, adventure yarns whose superb authenticity never distracts from the sheer thrill of the action.’
Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph
‘The Aubrey–Maturin novels, by Patrick O’Brian, are so addictive that after I finish one I have to hide the next from myself for a little while in order to do anything else but read.’
‘In Aubrey and Maturin, Patrick O’Brian has created two of the most enjoyable characters in twentieth-century fiction. Their relationship sustains an absorbing and thrilling sequence of naval stories, unrivalled in their complexity, full of impeccable detail and psychological insight. O’Brian switches from the intimate to the epic with equal assurance. One of the greatest authors to sail with.’
‘My hero is Patrick O’Brian. It’s basically impossible to write that well.’
‘One of the most compelling and brilliant novelists of his time . . . Beyond his superbly elegant writing, wit and originality, Patrick O’Brian showed an understanding of the nature of a floating world at the mercy of the wind and the sea which has never been surpassed.’
Max Hastings, Evening Standard
‘I devoured Patrick O’Brian’s twenty-volume masterpiece as if it had been so many tots of Jamaica grog.’
‘Written with most engaging enthusiasm that can’t fail to give pleasure to anybody who enjoys historical adventure flavoured with more than a dash of realism.’
The Sunday Times
‘One of the most brilliantly sustained pieces of historical fictional writing this century.’
James Teacher, Spectator
‘Patrick O’Brian brings depth to his sea-stories with outstanding dialogue, characterisation, humour and a golden thread of romance. You don’t have to love books about naval battles to become entranced.’
About the author
Patrick O’Brian was born in 1914 and published his first book, Caesar, when he was only fifteen. In the 1960s he began work on the idea that, over the next four decades, evolved into the twenty-novel long Aubrey–Maturin series (with an extra unfinished volume published posthumously). In 1995 he was awarded the CBE, and in 1997 he received an honorary doctorate of letters from Trinity College, Dublin. He died in January 2000 at the age of 85.
With bittersweet pleasure, readers may deem this 20th--and possibly final--installment in O'Brian's highly regarded series featuring Capt. Jack Aubrey of the English Royal Navy and Stephen Maturin, ship's doctor, the best of the lot. Post-Waterloo, the frigate Surprise sets sail to South America as a "hydrographical vessel," ostensibly to survey the Straits of Magellan and Chile's southern coast. In fact, Jack and Stephen are to offer help to the Chilean rebels trying to break free from Spain. On their way down the coast of West Africa, romance blossoms for both men. Jack's liaison (with his cousin, Isobel, in Gibraltar) is brief, but widower Stephen's passion for Christine Wood, a naturalist who has been his correspondent for some time, turns serious in Sierra Leone. The doctor's correspondence with Christine begins with accounts of his explorations in Africa and South America, referencing, say, an "anomalous nuthatch" or the "etymology of doldrum," but they're quite wonderful love letters, functioning as a chorus to the action. Once in Chile, despite the conflict between opposing rebel camps, Jack leads a successful raid on a treasure fort in Valdivia, followed by the seizure of a Peruvian frigate to be turned over to the Chilean rebels, triumphs that reap him a just reward; at that point, readers will learn the title's significance. Throughout, familiar characters abound and entertain, especially the amusingly nasty steward, Killick, and Stephen's "loblolly girl" (nurse), Poll Skeeping. And finally, there is Horatio Hanson, bastard son of a nobleman, who comes on board as a midshipman, a dashing young foil for the ship's elders. O'Brian has rightfully been compared to Jane Austen, but one wonders if even she would have done justice to "those extraordinary hollow dwellings, sometimes as beautiful as they were comfortless." To use one of Stephen's favorite expressions, "What joy!"