The Ionian Mission
|<- The Surgeon's Mate||Treason's Harbour ->|
Stephen and Diana have managed to find domestic tranquility—living separately and seeing each other almost daily. She gives him an impractical dresser as a parting gift when he ships again with Jack aboard the ship-of-the-line Worcester for the Toulon blockade; Jack’s lawsuit is at a critical point, and his lawyers prefer to proceed without his violent outbursts.
En route, Professor Graham, a chaplain they are transporting, tries to recruit Stephen into a different branch of intelligence, ignorant of his activities. Jack, meanwhile, aches for a fair fight that will get first lieutenant Tom Pullings promoted to commander, unlikely on blockade.
Admiral Thornton commands the blockade, seconded by Harte. The endless responsibility, not only for the blockade but the complex political situation in the Mediterranean station, is causing Thornton to waste away with worry—Stephen suspects a fleet action with the French might be his only hope.
While Thornton is absent, Harte sends Worcester and Dryad (a sloop commanded by Babbington) to Medina. Finding the French there, they enter the port to pick a fight, but neither side is willing to fire first in a neutral port.
Rejoining the squadron, Jack learns Thornton intended him to allow Dryad’s capture to give them an excuse to take the port, but Harte left this out of his orders to break Jack and Babbington (whom his daughter Fanny fancies). Fortunately, Jack got Harte’s orders in writing, so the admiral sees through this.
Stephen meets with his contacts in Barcelona, then goes ashore in France for a meeting with key French intelligence agents. But the rendez-vous is spoiled when Graham attempts his own rendez-vous the same night. Stephen rescues Graham.
Later, the squadron is blown off station by a storm. The Surprise reports the French have put to sea, trying to reach the Atlantic, and the squadron begins a chase, but though they intercept the superior French squadron, a wind change cheats them of the weather-gage, and the French admiral Emeriau declines to fight and heads back to Toulon. The Worcester, as well as several of the weather-beaten squadron, is damaged by the over-pressing, and must refit in Malta.
The lost chance for his dreamed-of action destroys what’s left of Admiral Thornton’s health (“I am leaving this station very shortly,” he tells Jack, perhaps referring to his likely death), and, leaving Harte in command, he transfers home, giving Jack a new mission.
Kutali, a city in the Seven Islands of Greece, is disputed by three beys (Ottomon governors). In exchange for cannons to hold Kutali, all three have offered to help throw the French out of the neighboring city of Marga. After snatching up a prize (the Bonhomme Richard, loaded with silver) and with Graham as advisor, Jack takes Surprise (crewed by the cream of the Worcester’s crew) and, with Dryad, he meets with Ismail-bey, a wealthy politician; Mustapha-bey, nearly a pirate; and finally Sciahan-bey, who already in fact possesses Kutali and the loyalty of its Christian population, and who impresses Jack mightily. He sends Dryad away to send transports with the guns.
The bargain looks ill-conceived when rumor has it that the Turkish sultan has given control to Ismail, but Graham learns this is a ploy by his friend Ali Pasha to convince Mustapha to rebel (all part of the region’s complicated politics). Indeed, Mustapha’s two powerful ships, the Torgud and Kitabi, sieze the cannons en route to Kutali. Ali Pasha gives Graham Mustapha’s destination, and in a battle against the odds, Surprise’s superior seamanship (and therefore maneuverablity) keeps the Turks from boarding long enough to butcher their crews and take both vessels. Pulling's suffers a horrible wound to the face during the encounter, but is overjoyed nonetheless, since he will probably be promoted to commander due to the glorious battle.
Like The Surgeon’s Mate, this novel is full of one episodic adventure after another, except that this time, the adventures are all rather boring until the titular Ionian mission of the final one hundred pages. The overall feel of nostalgia for the days of Master and Commander and the feeling of how line-of-battle ship duty is so much less dashing than the days of Jack’s youth. For the first time since The Mauritius Command, Jack’s role in this one is greater than Stephen’s, which was nice, but for the most part this one was just kinda boring. (8/12/05)