The 16th book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series finds the Surprise still in the South Pacific, en route to South America, where Stephen has a secret spying mission. The journey so far has been complicated, with multiple delays along the way, making this the fourth book about it. And it’s in this book that they finally make it to Peru.
A lot happens in this book, and the plot moves forward considerably. It’s one of the more exciting and eventful books in the series. So what stands out to me?
- Martin, Stephen’s friend and fellow naturalist, becomes irretrievably ill and unable to stay at sea.
- The Surprise picks up a man named Dutourd who is attempting to start a free-thinking colony in the south seas. This causes complications, both among the crew and in Stephen’s mission.
- Sam Panda appears again! I love Sam Panda, Jack’s son by an African woman. He’s Jack’s physical double, only young and black. I enjoy how much these two love each other and how much they want to see each other. Initally, however, Sam only gets to see Stephen, but, in his role as a priest, he’s able to help Stephen with his efforts in support of Peru’s independence.
- Jack and Stephen find a group of enslaved men on one of the ships that they take. Slavery being illegal in Britain at the time, they are able to free the men, but they then have to figure out where they can leave them where they won’t risk being enslaved again. Sam Panda helps with this, too.
- Stephen travels into the mountains of Peru, gets spat on by llamas and gets to see many new to him species of plant and animal. He also becomes friends with an Incan man named Eduardo who is as devoted to the study of nature as Stephen is. The two take a little side trip and get caught in a sudden snowstorm. Stephen is lucky to survive with the loss of only a few toes.
- Jack also experiences serious physical challenges. His eye is injured in a battle and must be kept covered. That would be easy enough if his ship didn’t get caught in a massive windstorm that nearly tears it apart. The adrift weeks at sea bring him nearly to starvation, and when he’s found, he’s worse off than anyone has seen him.
- There’s a marvelous reunion between Stephen and Jack when Stephen attempts to pilot a balsa-wood craft out to meet the Surprise.
- There’s a battle in the ice that leaves the Surprise stranded without mast or rudder. But by the end of the book, they’re on their way home. Whew!