I confess. I enjoy the Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books more when they’re set on land than when they’re at sea. Does that make me a bad fan? After 11 books, I’ve gotten used to the nautical lingo and am far less lost during sea battles than I used to be, but the misadventures at home in England were a welcome change. Although I suppose these misadventures weren’t much welcome to Jack and Stephen because things get very dark.
As the book begins, the Surprise is in Bridgetown, recovering from its previous disastrous but not unsuccessful mission and preparing to go home to England. Both Stephen and Jack have reason to worry about their wives. Stephen fears that Diana believes the rumors of his unfaithfulness. And after encountering a surprise relation in the West Indies, Jack is worried about Sophie’s reaction to his own past. (The introduction of Sam Panda is a wonderful moment in a book with many wonderful moments.)
It doesn’t take long after the Surprise returns to England for Jack to get in trouble. Honestly, whenever Jack earns some money, someone needs to take it from him for safe-keeping because good fortune so quickly turns to bad when Jack is on land. In this case, a stock tip turns into scandal with possibly dire consequences.
But despite the seriousness of Jack’s situation, this is a fairly cheerful book, partly because we see Jack’s good work and strong friendships pay off. I don’t want to say much, but there’s a scene involving a pillory that may well bring tears to your eyes. Sophie is as steadfast as ever, and Jack’s men show loyalty and care. Jack has made enemies, and those enemies make progress in bringing him down, but his friends are there to help bring him back up.
And Stephen proves to be a most marvelous friend. Once he realizes what Jack may lose, he gathers friends and funds to give Jack a future. By the end of the book, Jack’s situation has changed, and Stephen is well on his way to finally unmasking the intelligence agent within the British government. They have a lot of work to do to make things right again, but there’s hope that they can do it.