by Patrick O'Brian
The fourth book in the Aubrey-Maturin series. Languishing at home on half pay, Jack is unexpectedly given a commission to go as acting Commodore to the Cape of Good Hope, where he will direct a small squadron to take the French-held islands of Mauritius and Reunion. The captains under Jack’s command are slightly jealous, but they are motivated primarily by their differing natures, whether harsh taskmasters or eager to please and ineffective. After some easy victories, helped along by Stephen’s psych-op machinations, a particularly bloody battle ensues. Defeat looms, but Jack’s pure bulldogged determination turns the tide, until the victory and glory is taken from his grasp by one of his own allies.
While I believe that this series really takes off in the next two books, this is a vibrant and thrilling historical novel. Focusing heavily on the nautical warfare – and its specific, archaic jargon, such that several passages may as well have been in Greek to me – and the rigid manners of the era – a window to the psychology of the culture, as recorded by the ever-perspicacious Stephen, it makes for a rich historical excursion. It also is a delight in rewarding the careful reader; plot points are made via inferences through a single line of dialogue, rather than tedious filler. Another very enjoyable and erudite entry.