The Nutmeg of Consolation

Nutmeg of Consolation Cover The further I get into Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, the more it feels like one long story, with each book just chronicling a new set of incidents in that story. So it’s harder to point to a specific novel and say, “this is the one about …” But, I shall try, if only to provide a refresher for myself when I pick up the next book.

The Nutmeg of Consolation is the 14th book in the series, and the second book in a five-volume circumnavigation of the globe. It begins where The Thirteen-Gun Salute left off, with Jack and Stephen and the crew of the Diane stranded on an island in the South China Sea. Their attempt to build a schooner is foiled by a group of Dyak pirates. But just as their rations are about to run out, Stephen meets some Chinese children who were on the island collecting birds’ nests, and after Stephen helps one of them with an injury, he asks their father to take them to Batavia.

In Batavia, Jack is given command of a newly captured ship, which he names The Nutmeg of Consolation. The Nutmeg leaves for New South Wales and, on the way, gets into battle with a French ship and is saved by the Surprise. Jack takes over command of the Surprise, and the ship sails to New South Wales, where Stephen and fellow naturalist Martin are astonished at the wildlife and learn that platpuses are more dangerous than you might think.

All are shocked at the brutal treatment of prisoners in the colony, and Stephen works to help his former assistant Padeen, who was sent to the colony for theft and is now becoming sick from the beatings, which only get worse when he attempts to escape. On top of that, they have to find a good home for a pair of Melanesian girls they found on a island whose other inhabitants had all been wiped out from smallpox. There’s also some Irish intrigue that I couldn’t follow very well. And Stephen loses his fortune, only to find that he didn’t lose it. Diane has a baby girl, making Stephen especially eager to get home.

This was one of the less exciting books in the series, because there’s no single problem or great drama. What suspense there is usually dissipates quickly, and the story moves on to something else. Instead, the focus is on enjoying the characters and setting, seeing different parts of the world and encountering different people, and I enjoy all of that very much. It is very much a book about the journey rather than a plot that presses toward a destination.

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2 Responses to The Nutmeg of Consolation

  1. Oh goody! I was just trying to remember if it was you who had read all those Aubrey/Maturin books — I was pretty sure it was, but then I got nervous that maybe it was the Horatio Hornblower books you liked. Great! Okay! My friend just read the first book in this series and liked the jokes and relationships but wasn’t as wild about all the boat stuff. In your opinion, are there books she should skip in the series to avoid All the Boat Stuff? Or given that it all feels like one long story, would she be doing that story an injustice by skipping around?

    • Teresa says:

      Oh, is this Whiskey Jenny who tried it? I remember y’all talked on your podcast about trying these.

      I like the relationships more than the boat stuff, too, but I do think it would be confusing to skip books. A lot of the books are like this one and have a mix of land and sea, and sometimes the sea stuff is more about interpersonal relationships aboard ship, which I enjoy. I’ve gotten more interested in the sea stuff as the series goes on, but my favorites are the ones that are mostly on land, like Post Captain and The Reverse of the Medal.

      My advice is to definitely read the next book if she likes the characters, because it’s all on land, and probably the one after that, since it’s more of a mix of land and sea. By then, she’ll know if she’s hooked enough to keep reading. (I wasn’t convinced that I’d like the series until the second book.)

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