‘If it’s blood, I must put it in cold water this directly minute,’ said Killick, who knew perfectly well that it was blood.
Shipwrecked on an island in the Dutch East Indies, the last of whose animals have almost been hunted to extinction by the hungry seamen and – worst of all – with grog and tobacco nearly finished, Captain Aubrey and his followers are still able to play a rousing game of cricket on the beach. A desperate battle with Malay pirates follows, but then, thanks to a sly ruse by Stephen, they are unexpectedly rescued. After the good fortune of being given a new 20-gun ship, The Nutmeg of Consolation, the crew are reunited at sea with their shipmates on the beloved Surprise, and the real trouble begins. In the prison colony of New South Wales, the appalling treatment of convicts means that Stephen decides he must rescue his erstwhile servant Padeen – lying in hospital after suffering 200 lashes, and condemned to a still more brutal fate. Stephen’s determination to aid his escape brings him into a painful conflict with Jack that threatens their friendship.
For this book O’Brian researched extensively the early history of Australia, and without ever losing his wit and sense of humour, his deep humanity and sympathy for those who suffered there pervades every page. O’Brian makes a profound acknowledgement to the help given to him by Robert Hughes’s history, The Fatal Shore, published in a Folio Society edition in 1998.
Read more about the life and work of Patrick O'Brian
In 1991, an article appeared in The New York Times entitled ‘An Author I’d Walk the Plank For’. Like millions of readers around the world, the writer, Richard Snow, had become addicted to Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series. Set against the sprawling canvas of the Napoleonic Wars, O’Brian’s naval adventure novels evoke this period in history like no others. Their success is down to the vim and vigour of O’Brian’s prose, his extraordinary eye for period detail and his ear for language. In Snow’s words: ‘O’Brian summoned up with casual omniscience the workaday magic of a vanished time.’
The partnership between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin is at the heart of Patrick O’Brian’s masterful series. Beyond the beautifully textured period setting and the thrilling skirmishes and naval battles (many based on real events), the popularity of the novels stems from these two engaging, intriguing protagonists, with Aubrey’s passionate nature providing a marvellous foil for Maturin’s more enigmatic character. Two centuries may separate us from them, but O’Brian creates an utterly compelling portrait of two men and a world at war.