Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Thirteen Gun Salute

By Patrick O'Brian
In the first place it needs a proper yard, a dock, a slip; then, to take the example of a seventy-four, the hull alone needs the seasoned timber - the seasoned timber, mind - of some two thousand trees of about two tons apiece, with forty-seven ship-wrights working a twelvemonth. Even a frigate like ours calls for twenty-seven skilled hands to build her in a year.
Reinstated to the Navy List with his previous seniority, Jack Aubrey is sent on a mission to South America with Stephen Maturin but events conspire to over take their plans and they must change to HMS Diane instead and head for the far east and Malaysia where a treaty must be negotiated with the Sultan of Pulo Prabang (which I suspect is a fictional place). Naturally the French have a competing mission and who should be accompanying it but the traitors Wray and Ledward!

The story moves with the same implacable attention to detail as the rest of the series and enough happens over the course of the book to maintain interest. O'Brian enjoys Malaysia enough to convey a nice sense of mystery about the place, though I wouldn't vouch for his accuracy. Stephen takes the foreground as he conspires against the French and explores Pulo Prabang, whilst Jack is engaged in off stage naval duties.

The Nutmeg of Consolation

By Patrick O'Brian
Six balls hit the hull, masts or yards; one carried away half the larboard quarter-gallery; and the sixteenth came the length of the ship at chest height, killing two men on the forecastle and three on the quarterdeck: Miller, just next to Jack Aubrey, a hand at the wheel, and the master.
There is a dreamy quality to this stage in the long Aubrey Maturin series. O'Brian has long since left history behind and moves through an alternate reality where time has been so suspended that when a reference is finally made to a Napoleonic victory, it doesn't seem to belong in the narrative at all. He might as well have made a reference to the lunar landings.

The story however is every bit as enjoyable as the previous book, and carries on where that one left off, with Jack, Stephen and their companions stranded on an island. Things pick up quite fast when a desperate band of pirates arrives and soon the story is moving along at a nice pace. Unfortunately this nice pace eventually brings the novel to New South Wales which is as miserable a setting for a novel as it is possible to find.

Clarissa Oakes

By Patrick O'Brian
He had rarely been so tired, had rarely gone so very far down; yet he rose up clear and fresh, no muddiness, no staring about; he knew, as a sailor knows, that it was the end of the middle watch, and the tide was on the turn; he knew that there was some one in the room, and as he sat up a strong arm pressed him back , a warm, scented arm. He was not altogether surprised - perhaps his half-waking mind had caught the scent - nor at all displeased: his heart began to beat violently and he made room.
Finally leaving behind the dreariness of penal Australia, Jack and Stephen set off to assist a British dependency in the Pacific which is at threat from yet another French mission, but along the way, the ships mood begins to darken and Jack, still some what distracted by illness and a sombre mood is surprised to learn that one of his crew has smuggled a woman aboard. Soon they are married and the ship continues on its mission but the long journey soon demonstrates why it was once considered unlucky to have a woman aboard a ship (which it doesn't take a genius to figure out why).

The story ends with an up beat conclusion when Jack and his men liberate the island of Moahu, and an object lesson as to the awful power of case shot against a densly packed foe.

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