Jack Aubrey is just beginning an assignment to take the Surprise to South America when he receives the good news that the Royal Navy wishes to reinstate him. And with that, he becomes captain of the Diana and is given the task of taking an envoy named Edward Fox to Pulo Prabang.
Much of this book, the thirteenth in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, is uneventful. The crew of the Diana faces some complications on their journey, but they are trivial in comparison to the storms and fires and battles of previous assignments. Most of the drama relates to interpersonal dynamics on the ship and between nations. Fox is not a pleasant shipmate, seeing himself as above everyone else, a feeling that may very well have led to his doom by the end of the book. But his work, building an alliance with the sultan of Pulo Prabang, is important for strategic purposes. And fans of the series will see its dramatic significance when the traitor Andrew Wray turns up, working on behalf of the French.
This is one of the more episodic books in the series, and most of the pleasure comes from happy scenes: Jack getting news of his son Sam Panda, Stephen befriending an orangutan named Muong, Jack meeting the nephew of a former rival in battle. Some of the more dramatic moments, such as the conclusion of Wray’s story, take place off the page. But O’Brian includes a weirdly satisfying coda when it comes to Wray.
After this this relatively uncomplicated journey, the book concludes with the crew of the Diane in a serious situation, stranded on a small island, their ship destroyed in a storm. This makes me all the more eager to pick up the story in the next book, The Nutmeg of Consolation.