A first outing by Yale critic Brooks (Reading for the Plot, 1984, etc.) carries us across many years, several oceans, and countless worlds into the Arcadia of 18th-century Tahiti. In France during the last days of the ancien rÆ’gime, advancement in the world of politics and fashion had to be plotted as carefully as any military campaign. It helped immensely to possess a title, but that was no guarantee of success, as the young Prince Charles of Nassau-Siegen discovers to his chagrin. Noble but penniless, Charles has the good fortune to become the lover of the powerful Comtesse de Lesdiguieres, only to incur her wrath by taking as his mistress the beautiful (but plebeian) actress Mademoiselle Arnould. So much for his life at Court. Charles has to find his fortune abroad now, so he volunteers as an officer aboard the Boudeuse, which is just setting sail for an expedition to the South Seas. ""While my story is of an immense voyage,"" he says, ""this is not a tale of the sea."" Quite right, too: It's a tale of Tahiti and what's to be found there. After enduring the hardships of life at sea and witnessing the brutality of the South American colonies, none of the crew is prepared for the beauty and innocence of the Polynesian isles. Arriving in 1769, they're the first white men to set foot on Tahiti, a land of such natural abundance that agriculture is unknown and labor practically nonexistent. Even more wonderful are the Tahitian women, so finely featured and elegant that they seem scarcely human. Charles himself soon falls in love with the beautiful Ite, but his sojourn is cut short when the Boudeuse has to go back to France. He then faces the dilemma of returning to the gray land of Europe without Ite or remaining forever in an alien paradise. Engaging, well-paced, and intelligently written. The story itself is very old hat, but the spirit is there in full force. Don't leave, Charles!