The 19th volume (The Yellow Admiral, 1996, etc.) in the most successful modern series of historical fiction indicates no diminishment of power or inventiveness on the part of its author. Loyal fans of the series, which chronicles the martial adventures and complex friendship of Captain Aubrey and the physician/spy Stephen Maturin during the Napoleonic Wars, need to know only that the book is available. Others who have yet to sample the series should know that it stands out because of O’Brian’s extraordinary ability to match an uncanny, utterly convincing evocation of early 19th-century Europe with subtle depictions of character, all rendered within the confines of plots featuring considerable adventures. This time out, the (realistically aging) Aubrey and Maturin are called on to help frustrate Napoleon’s last, desperate bid for power. The dictator has escaped from confinement on Elba, has rallied his armies, and is marching on British forces. There’s a chance that Muslim mercenaries may cast their lot with Napoleon and tip the balance of power—if French gold reaches them in time. First in North Africa, and then across the Atlantic, the duo pursue the gold. There are clashes on land, some brilliantly rendered action at sea, and while the two eventually triumph, their victory is not without cost. More swift, vivid, engrossing work from the dean of historical novelists.