This novel is the seventeenth in the series set during the time of the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars, featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. I first read this book in August 2001, read it again in February 2007, and I was quite happy to read it again, as it is a very good book, and a great addition to the series.
After several years of gallivanting around the South Seas, the Surprise has finally made her way back home to England. Dr. Maturin finds, when he gets to his house in the country, that his daughter does not speak, and shows no emotion, being in her own world. (In modern terms, she is somewhere on the autistic scale.) Clarissa Oakes (now widowed), is at the house, taking care of Bridget; Diana could not handle her daughter’s handicap, and after several months of heavy drinking has left for parts unknown. In the intelligence line, Maturin finds that the highly-placed royal who was behind and supporting those who were passing information to he French has learned that it was Maturin who had uncovered the treason; the pardons for Oakes and for Maturin’s servant Padeen (both abstracted without leave from Botany Bay a few books ago) have been held up, and Stephen’s fortune is also in danger.
Meanwhile, Captain Aubrey is being made a Commodore, with several ships (including his flagship HMS Bellona) to head for the African slave coast, with the goal of disrupting the slave trade. The expedition is all over the newspapers, because the secret reason behind the fleet is to intercept French ships and transports that will be heading to Ireland to foment rebellion. Although Maturin is half-Irish, he does not have divided loyalties, as he deeply feels that an independent Ireland made so with French help would be worse than the current rule by England. Aubrey is also on the outs with his wife Sophie, not least because she has been consulting in business matters with the Reverend Hinksey, who had courted Sophie before her marriage to Aubrey.
I very much enjoyed reading this book, and I look forward to reading the next novel in the series.