You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Surgeon's Mate

Patrick O'Brian's The Surgeon's Mate takes over where the previous book left off. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the Shannon, the ship that has defeated an American frigate for the first time in the war of 1812. The story follows them on their passage to Britain, where Jack sees his wife and children for the first time in what must be two years. He has financial problems with the man who has convinced him that Jack has a silver mine on his propery. But he doesn't say long, joining Maturin on a trip to an island in the Baltic where Catalan troops are stationed for Napoleon.

This is where things get interesting. We get to see Jack's skill with a ship, the politics involved with the many nations involved in the war, and a little of Stephen's diplomatic skills with the Catalan troops. We don't actually get to see Stephen negotiate with the troops. He's part Catalan, and has to convince them that their countrymen are no longer fighting for Napoleon but against him, and they should give up the island to the British.

The maneuvers to be able to reach the island take up a good part of the middle of the book, since the last British ship to approach was shot with mortars and exploded, killing all on board. Jack has to take a smaller ship and capture a Dutch merchant ship, and commandeer that ship to get it near the island. The chase and the ensuing battle are very entertaining.

On leaving the island and escorting the troop transports, Jack ends up giving chase to a French ship, getting lost in the fog, and eventually grounding on the French coast. They end up in a prison in Brittany, and get taken to Paris. The authorities are on to Stephen and his work as an intelligence agent. The subsequent events and escape attempts are also entertaining.

The title refers to Stephen's attempt to get Diana to marry him at the beginning of the book. As an English woman living in American, her immigration status and suspicions as being a spy are unclear. Diana puts him off, even when he suggests the marriage will help the child she is carrying. They travel to Paris to a conference for natural scientists (before the Baltic expedition), and Diana ends up staying there. Stephen believes that he's only interested in Diana's hand for legal reasons, since he doesn't feel for her the way he used to. But by the end of the story, he has come full circle and wants to marry Diana also because he really loves her.

This story has a lot more action that the previous one. The pace keeps moving, and the scenes keep changing. There are all sorts of elements that come into play, from Stephen's work as an agent to Jack's infidelities in Canada, to Stephen's love for Diana, to Jack's maneuvers with his ship. The story keeps going from one place to another, and never slows down. Definitely a strong and satisfying episode in the series, I'll give it an A.


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