by Patrick O'Brian
The first thing youre going to say is, There isnt a U in the word Harbor at least if youre an American and you havent read much British literature that hasnt been brutally Americanized. (Case in point: Harry Potter and the
and someone help me here what on earth is a sorcerers stone supposed to be?). So right away, the title clues you in that the English of this book is not quite what you learned at Adlai E. Stevenson Middle School. It is a very English English, and not just because it comes from across the Atlantic. It is an English beamed through a time warp from an age when the Sun Never Set on the British Empire in spite of Napoleon Buonapartes best efforts to cast that empire into eternal darkness. It is a language full of wit and character, dancing and playing, conjuring visions of dangerous intrigues on land and intense confrontations at sea, a language that effortlessly impersonates a bygone age, though it was written as recently as when some of us (ahem) were at Adlai E. Stevenson Middle School.
Patrick OBrian delighted in language, and he also delighted history. In fact, he was so devoted to historical detail that this Aubrey-Maturin series of historical novels is only superficially fiction. The naval chases, battles, and day-to-day details all come from first-hand accounts and official documents of the period, namely somewhere around the year 1812. But that only gets us as far as the stark (albeit staggering) outlines of the story. The flesh and blood of it is made up of deeply human, fascinating characters such as the often (but not always) jolly Captain Jack Aubrey, and his seemingly absent-minded-professorish best friend and ships physician Stephen Maturin who, appearances aside, is one of the most efficient and dangerous agents serving His Majestys Naval Intelligence.
This book is the ninth in the series, and as far as I can tell (at this early stage of reading The Far Side of the World) it is also the middle book of a trilogy within that series. It is hard to say so categorically, however. All of the books to this point have traced a more or less continuous arc; only this book literally picks up where The Ionian Mission left us hanging, and The Far Side of the World (lately made into a roaring good film) picks up where this book abruptly ends. Each book, however, has its own distinct tale to tell.
As far is this tale goes, good old Lucky Jack does not feel so lucky any more. Harassed by financial and legal difficulties at home, burdened by the knowledge that his beloved frigate Surprise will soon be taken out of service, his excellent crew scattered around the fleet, and his beloved officers set on land with precious little chance of getting out to sea again, Jack is given not one but two missions in this book and as he himself admits, he makes a cock of both of them. The real story behind these failures, however, has to do with espionage, blackmail, and betrayal in the port of Valletta a seamy, politically unstable headquarters for the British fleet in the Mediterranean. French agents have so infiltrated the government that the enemy seems to know what the British are planning before the British know themselves and they use this knowledge to sabotage delicate missions and to set deadly traps.
Dogged by rumors that one or the other of them is having an affair with a very lovely officers wife who is forced, by threats against her husbands life, to turn spy against them...targeted by a network of French agents who want them destroyed more than anything in the world...dragged through searing deserts, blown through a vicious sandstorm on the Red Sea, tricked, robbed, ambushed, betrayed, and even sent to the bottom of the sea, Jack and Stephen are tested to the limits of their considerable powers and of their great friendship in ths exciting, suspenseful, and often funny book. Besides all the action and suspense, your reading experience is colored by fascinating cultures, natural and technological wonders, razor-keen character drama, and of course...wonderful, playing, dancing language! And when the end sets its hook into you, you will be (to borrow a phrase from Stephen himself) with child to find out what happens in the next book!
Recommended Age: 14+
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