'Ever since Jack Aubrey had been dismissed from the service, ever since his name, with its now meaningless seniority, had been struck off the list of post captains, it had seemed to him that he was living in a radically different world.'
Stephen Maturin has bought the Surprise and is fitting her out as a private letter of marque, with plans to prey upon the enemy shipping. Yet despite the hope of prize money, despite a hand-picked crew eager to serve, despite even the dear Surprise herself, nothing can touch Jack Aubrey's deep and bitter unhappiness at losing the chief meaning of his life - service in the navy.
For Stephen, who knows that treachery and malice lie behind Jack's dismissal, of even greater importance is the war of espionage. Together the two will carry on their private war in style with daring cutting out expeditions and the kind of cunning ruses de guerre in which Jack most delights.
There is also unfinished private business to which Stephen must attend. His wife Diana left him believing he was having an affair with an Italian woman. Now that her great diamond - the Blue Peter - is back in his possession, should he seek her out and try to effect a reconciliation?
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.