This is the eighteenth book (two more to go) in the historical series of novels about the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. I first read this book in August 2001, and again in February 2007; I am thoroughly enjoying my re-reading of the series once again, and regret the nearness of the last book in the series.
As the novel begins, it is late 1813 or very early 1814. Having returned from his actions as a Commodore off the coast of Africa, Aubrey retains the Bellona, and is sent to aid in the blockade of the French port of Brest. However, he has been having another captain man his ship, since as a Member of Parliament he has been going up to the London to thunder about naval matters, and as the owner of his ancestral manor he has been exercising his rights against policies that he objects to. His fulminations in Parliament put him in bad odor with Government, and his other activities put him on the outs with the Admiral of the blockade, who disliked him anyway. He is also having money problems; some of the slave ships he captured in the previous book claimed to be legitimate (i.e., under Portuguese license), and he is being personally sued for damages.
Aubrey’s life is complicated by family matters; while on the blockade his mother in law came to live at the manor (with his wife, their children, Stephen’s wife Diana and their daughter, and Clarissa Oakes, who teaches the younger children), and was put into his rooms. She proceeded to dig into all of his papers and found the letters from Miss Amanda Smith in Halifax, Canada to Aubrey, professing undying love from their short relationship (detailed during the book The Surgeon’s Mate, several books ago), announcing him as the father of her coming child, and demanding money (she later married someone else, when Aubrey was not forthcoming with money). Sophie, faced with this evidence of Aubrey’s infidelity produced by her meddling mother, does not react well, and threatens to leave Aubrey. Meanwhile, Maturin’s wealth is tied up in Spain, but his intelligence work continues; although the Peruvian independence movement fell through a book or two ago, Government is considering financing a new movement in Chile.
This novel takes us through 1814 and ends with Napoleon’s escape from the island of Elba in April of 1815. There is actually not a Yellow Admiral in the book; a Yellow Admiral is a senior captain that, although promoted to Admiral, is not given a squadron of ships, due to the Admiralty being very unhappy with said captain. At present, though not high up enough on the Navy List to be promoted to Admiral (which goes strictly by seniority), Aubrey has been told that such a fate might await him, due to his parliamentary activities against Government and the animus against him by his Admiral.
I enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading the next book in the series.