The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O’Brian

The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O'Brian

We have now come to the sixteenth book in the series of novels about the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, centering on the personalities of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. I first read this book in August 2001, and again in February 2007; and I did enjoy reading this book, despite some long dull passages.

The Surprise has now left the South Seas Island of Moahu, in pursuit of an American ship, the Franklin. (At this time, in the very much expanded year of 1812-ish, Great Britain is at war with the Americans.) When they catch up with the ship they meet the owner of the Franklin, Jean Dutourd, who had wanted to set up an idyllic colony in the South Seas. From Aubrey’s point of view, Dutourd is a pirate (the master of the Franklin held a letter of marque, but Dutourd did not), while Maturin (who does undercover intelligence work for the British against the French and Spanish) hopes that Dutourd does not recognize him as more than a ship’s doctor. To several members of the crew of the Surprise (religious separatists), Dutourd talks wonderfully to them about the rights of man and of equal rights for all.  At any rate, at long last (from Maturin’s point of view) the ship can now sail to Peru, so that Maturin can go ashore, make contacts, and help subvert the Spanish colonial government of Peru in accordance with his instructions from his superiors in intelligence. And once that is done, the Surprise can head for home.

This book does include some dandy sea battles; however, it also includes some rather overlong descriptions of Maturin (who is also a naturalist of note) hiking all over the high Andes. This was not one of the best of the books in the series, on that account; but the series is of such high general quality that one cannot really complain when one of the books is not superlative.

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