The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian: a review

Surprise returns to sea as a private warship, lots of people work at repairing the damage done to Jack’s career, the General dies and Jack unexpectedly inherits his seat in the Commons, and Maturin reconciles (perhaps that’s the word) with Diana. Oh, yes: There’s a nice little cutting-out operation, accomplished with Babbington’s help; Jack is once again rich. And poor old Leopard makes another appearance.

In general, I’ve always thought it makes more sense to think of the Aubrey/Maturin books as one long novel, as the overarching story is sometimes far more important that the current events chronicled in any particular book. This is one of the O’Brian books that I suspect doesn’t work as a stand-alone novel; too much of the story is tied to things we long-time readers have been watching develop for years. Nonetheless, it gives O’Brian (and Jack) an opportunity to look at the Navy from the outside, and it’s delightfully well-written.

This is perhaps my favorite Maturin novel; he’s become very rich, which makes him (oddly, inconsistently) frugal. Stephen spends the entire story fretting about the upcoming reunion with Villiers–but when they accidentally encounter each other on a Stockholm road she (inevitably) just picks up the relationship as though it had never been broken. It’s easy to see what the man dreads and loves about his wife and lover.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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