The fifth book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series has Captain Jack Aubrey and surgeon/intelligence agent Stephen Maturin traveling to Botany Bay in the HMS Leopard. Their mission is to assist the notorious Caption Bligh (formerly of the Bounty) with what appears to be a fresh mutiny among the officers serving under him in his work as Governor of New South Wales. An additional component of the mission is deeply troubling to Jack and potentially complicated for Stephen. They are to transport a group of convicts being sent to Australia, and among them is a woman recently connected with Diana Villiars, the woman Stephen longs for in vain. Unbeknownst to Jack, Stephen has been given the assignment to question this woman, Mrs Wogan, an intelligence agent for the Americans.
The voyage turns into is series of disasters. There’s a violent uprising of convicts, an attack of gaol fever that kills many, and days upon days languishing in the doldrums and making no progress. And then a Dutch warship appears. Some events that appear auspicious turn disastrous, and some that appear disastrous become blessings in disguise. It’s an eventful voyage that demonstrates just how perilous life at sea can be and how important it is to have a trust-worthy crew and, even better, a reliable friend or two. I was riveted from beginning to end.
Stephen and Jack continue to delight me. I laughed the accounts of Jack’s home life and Stephen and Sophie Aubrey’s efforts to keep him contented and out of trouble. And I worried about Stephen’s dependence on laudanum and his heartbreak over Diana. Jack and Stephen’s relationship remains close and loving, but circumstances have made it increasingly complicated. The two men are fiercely loyal to each other, but they have particular duties. Sometimes, friendship and duty come in conflict. By the end of the book, some difficult decisions have been made that could have repercussions down the line for their friendship.
I’m enjoying this series more and more with every book I read. The nautical bits are getting easier to follow, and the characters are becoming more alive (and they were plenty alive to start with). I’m already looking forward to reading the next installment!