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Fortunately, Jack is not left to his own devices. Stephen Maturin returns from a mission in France with the news that the Chileans, to secure their independence, require a navy, and the service of English officers. Jack is savoring this apparent reprieve for his career, as well as Sophie's forgiveness, when he receives an urgent dispatch ordering him to Gibraltar: Napoleon has escaped from Elba.
In command now of a new ship, the Nutmeg, Aubrey pursues his interrupted mission. The dreadful penal colony in New South Wales, harrowingly described, is the backdrop to a diplomatic crisis provoked by Maturin's Irish temper, and to a near-fatal encounter with the wildlife of the Australian outback.
Much of The Commodore takes place on land, in sitting rooms and in drafty castles, but the roar of the great guns is never far from our hearing. Aubrey and Maturin are sent on a bizarre decoy mission to the fever-ridden lagoons of the Gulf of Guinea to suppress the slave trade. But their ultimate destination is Ireland, where the French are mounting an invasion that will test Aubrey's seamanship and Maturin's resourcefulness as a secret intelligence agent.
The subtle interweaving of these disparate themes is an achievement of pure storytelling by one of our greatest living novelists.
In a thrilling finale, Patrick O'Brian delivers all the excitement his many readers expect: Aubrey and the crew of the Surprise impose a brutal pax Britannica upon the islanders in a pitched battle against a band of headhunting cannibals.
Their ship, the Surprise, is now also a privateer, the better to escape diplomatic complications from Stephen's mission, which is to ignite the revolutionary tinder of South America. Jack will survive a desperate open boat journey and come face to face with his illegitimate black son; Stephen, caught up in the aftermath of his failed coup, will flee for his life into the high, frozen wastes of the Andes; and Patrick O'Brian's brilliantly detailed narrative will reunite them at last in a breathtaking chase through stormy seas and icebergs south of Cape Horn, where the hunters suddenly become the hunted.
This is the background to the first novel Patrick O'Brian ever wrote about the sea, a precursor to the acclaimed Aubrey/Maturin series that shares the excitement and rich humor of those books. The protagonist is Peter Palafox, son of a poor Irish parson, who signs on as a midshipman, never before having seen a ship. Together with his lifelong friend Sean, Peter sets out to seek his fortune, embarking upon a journey of danger, disappointment, foreign lands, and excitement.
Here is a tale certain to please not only admirers of O'Brian's work but also any reader with an adventurous soul.
The Wager was parted from Anson's squadron in the fierce storms off Cape Horn and struggled alone up the coast of Chile until she was driven against the rocks and sank. The survivors were soon involved in trouble of every kind. A surplus of rum, a disappearing stock of food, and a hard, detested captain soon drove them into drunkenness, mutiny, and bloodshed. After many months of privation, a handful of men made their way northward under the guidance of a band of Indians, at last finding safety in Valparaiso.
This saga of survival is the background to the adventures of two young men aboard the Wager: midshipman Jack Byron and his friend Tobias Barrow, an alarmingly naive surgeon's mate. Patrick O'Brian's many devoted readers will take particular interest in this story, as Jack and Toby form a kind of blueprint for Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, the famed heroes of the great Aubrey/Maturin series to come.
This story begins where Patrick O'Brian's devoted fans would want it to, with a sloop in the South China Sea barely surviving a killer typhoon. The time is the 1930s and the protagonist a teenaged American boy whose missionary parents have just died. In the company of his rough seafaring uncle and an elderly English cousin, an eminent archaeologist, Derrick sets off in search of ancient treasures in central Asia.
Along the way they encounter a charismatic Chinese bandit and a host of bad characters, including Russian agents fomenting unrest. The narrative touches on surprising subjects: astronomy, oriental philosophy, the correct identification of ancient Han bronzes, and some very local cuisine. It ends in an ice-bound valley, with the party caught between hostile Red-Hat monks and the Great Silent Ones, the Tibetan designation for the yeti.
Temple escapes from a blighted childhood and his widowed, alcoholic mother thanks to an artistic gift, the one thing of value he has to his name. His life as a painter in London of the '30s is cruelly deprived. In order to eat, he squanders this one asset by becoming a forger of art, specializing in minor works by Utrillo. He is rescued by the love of a beautiful and wealthy woman, and it is the failure of this relationship and the outbreak of war that propel him into the world of espionage.