THE LETTER OF MARQUE
O'Brian (Desolation Island, 1979, etc.) brings back Captain Jack Aubrey, who is no longer in the Royal Navy but nonetheless still sails against Napoleon. Aubrey is a stern man these days, having been dismissed from the service for false charges of stock fraud. His old friend Stephen Maturin, however, having bought Aubrey's old frigate Surprise, now uses her as a private ship of war (a letter of marque) to cruise upon the enemy and gives Aubrey command of it. The brainy Maturin, secretly an agent in British naval and political intelligence, is the perfect foil for Aubrey, a man socially unsure of himself and pursued by creditors when ashore but on deck beloved by his crew and revered as Lucky Jack Aubrey. Maturin himself has become estranged from his wife, Diana, and hopes to win her back while Aubrey, also married with children, must dig his way out of disgrace. These personal worries add fiber to the characterizations, and the play of strengths and frailties between the two seamen (Maturin is overly fond of tincture of brandy-and-opium) glows with humanity. Indeed, O'Brian is a brilliant stylist of sea-historicals, his every sentence sensuous and emerging from saltwater as naturally as the leap of a flying fish. After a few preliminary skirmishes at sea, with his privateer painted up for deception of the enemy, Jack takes a pistol ball in the back and loses half his blood at St. Martin's, where he has triumphed over the French. While the House of Commons entertains reinstating Jack, who sails to the Gulf of Riga, Maturin goes off to Sweden to find reconciliation with Diana. Authentic and engaging.