19 August 2011

2. Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian

We begin again at Ashgrove Cottage, with Jack Aubrey zealously spending the prize money and earnings from The Mauritius Command. This time new orders come in for Jack and Stephen at almost the same time. They are to take the Leopard, an old 50-gun, fourth rate ship, to Australia and restore order after William Bligh (of the Bounty) suffers another mutiny. Since they are going that way, they are tasked to bring a set of prisoners, including a spy, for delivery in Australia's penal colony.

Doldrums; gaol fever (typhus that infects a lot of the crew, including our beloved Pullings); a stop to drop off the sick in Brazil; a long and stressful chase with the Dutch 74 Waakzaamheid in bad weather and stormy seas in the Roaring 40s that finally, finally comes to blows; icebergs; and a very near sinking from icebergs where Jack allows some of the crew off in lifeboats; Desolation Island where the Leopard attempt some repairs; and a visit from an American whaler. There is also a lot of neat natural science research for Stephen on Desolation Island.

This was a good combination of Jack and Stephen's character development. The entire book is one, long passage, where nothing in particular happens. Stephen does have a lot of opportunities for development with the health of the prisoners, trying to figure out what the deal is with the American spy Mrs Wogan, and all of the research he is able to conduct on seals, albatrosses, and penguins once they reach the Southern Ocean and Desolation Island - which my Harbors and High Seas companion book suggests is probably Kerguelen Island. Jack is developed in the usual way - long letters to Sophie and ruminations on the effectiveness of the crew he inherits and collects - but we also get to see him in two emergencies, the slow, long run from the Waakzaamheid, and the near sinking from the iceberg. The first is a chess match played in foul weather and the second is a frenetic puzzling while the ships slowly sinks into frigid seas.

I enjoyed this one as much as I did the first book. And the next book, Fortunes of War, is a direct sequel to this one.

Here's a nice sentence: "The sun rose on a sea in labour, the crests riding ahead of the swell and breaking: creaming water from horizon to horizon except in the bottom of the troughs, much deeper now; while from every height the wind tore foam, drops and solid water, driving it forward in a grey veil that darkened and filled the air" (245-46).

1 comment:

meezly said...

I had to breeze thru your review since I don't want to know too much, but I'll probably forget once I'm ready to read the 4th and 5th installments.

it's nice to know that the lack of gunpowder porn is not a necessary ingredient in making a great Aubrey-Maturin book!