And now, most regretfully, we come to the twentieth and last book in the series about the Royal Navy during (and just after) the Napoleonic Wars, featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend Dr. Stephen Maturin, who is a physician, a surgeon, a naturalist of note, and an intelligence agent (albeit an unpaid one) for the British. I first read this book in September 2001, and again in February 2007; and I almost wish I had not read the books, so that I could re-read them again.
This book starts in Gibraltar, but soon takes us to England, where the Surprise is readied for her trip around Cape Horn to Chile. Aubrey agrees to take on as midshipman one Horatio Hanson, a protege of William, Duke of Clarence, the son of the King and brother of the Prince Regent (actually, Hanson does not know it, but the Duke of Clarence is his real father). The ship leaves England by way of Sierra Leone (where Maturin proposes marriage to a widowed friend), then heads for Chile to survey the coast (officially) and to aid those who would win independence from Spain (unofficially). (The main plot loosely echoes Lord Cochrane’s setting up and commanding the Chilean Navy from 1818 to the early 1820s.)
The final book contains descriptions of life at sea, and of at least one fairly bloody sea battle; it also shows signs of being imperfectly edited at times. But I very much regret having no more to read of Aubrey and Maturin, and may yet purchase The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey, which is three fairly finished chapters of what would have been the next book (published in 2004; the author died in 2000, at the age of 85). And I do have a couple of books to read which, though not by Patrick O’Brian, are essentially companion books to the series.