During the Napoleonic wars, Captain Jack Aubrey reaches middle age and is beached with domesticity: wife, daughters, mother-in-law, several servants, all packed into a little cottage like the Black Hole--and on half-pay. Britain's out to dominate France in the South Indian ocean, and so when Jack is offered command of the newly refitted frigate Boadicea, he jumps at the chance to escape. What's more, he'll be with some great old friends, including ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin--with whom he loves to fiddle two-part Mozart inventions over port in the captain's cabin. It's that kind of book, shot through with unobtrusive culture and period texture that flows like a serenade: even the nautical detail--telescopes and stores, regs and discipline--have a lived-in fray of poetic experience and warm handiness. Jack's job is to round the Cape of Good Hope and take the islands of La Reunion and Mauritius from the French. His biggest headache comes after being made temporary commodore and being given his first command of a whole squadron of ships: the captains under him are a nervewracking, neurotic and brutal lot, and all are vividly drawn with every crotchet intact and rolling eyeball secure. They have real nerve to them, a crazy inner skip to their hearts, and O'Brian captures it all in language deep with detail and the poetry of fact on blue-water currents under the trades.