The Mauritius Command
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Married life is not all Jack Aubrey hoped for, especially with a ruined Mrs. Williams and twin baby girls in the house, so Jack is grateful when Stephen arrives with yet another naval mission born from his intelligence activities—the capture of the islands of Mauritius and La Réunion near Madagascar, from which the French continue to menace eastern trade routes.
Commanding the Boadicea, Jack is made commodore of a large squadron, and must put up with the other post captains he now commands: Pym, well-meaning but not very bright; Clonfort, a dilitante accustomed to ridiculous luxury who once nearly got Jack killed; and Corbett, whose crew is on the verge of mutiny.
Jack finds an ally in Colonel Keating of the Army, however, and after a great deal of maneuvering, they manage to land a superior force on the less fortified La Réunion, only to be cheated out of their battle by Stephen’s intelligence activities on shore, which have subverted the colonists’ loyalty to Napoleon.
Jack sends Corbett to England with the news, dividing his mutinous crew into the other ships, solving two problems at once. Thanks to Stephen’s intelligence, he then attacks Ile de la Passe, commanding the second best harbor on Mauritius, and holds it.
But when the French arrive while Jack is back in La Réunion, Pym and Clonfort launch an ill-conceived attack that leads every ship but the absent Boadicea to be captured by the French, and Clonfort is badly wounded.
The French flagship Vénus attacks Corbett at sea, returning from England in the Africaine, and his new crew takes advantage of the night battle to throw him overboard, before they’re forced to strike their colors.
Jack arrives the next morning, and snaps up both ships, forming a new squadron. He and Keating devise a daring plan to take Mauritius, but at the last moment Admiral Bertie arrives to take the credit. Jack, however, is unconcerned, because news arrives with the admiral that Sophie has given birth to George, the son he has longed for.
In the French hospital, the wounded Clonfort kills himself by gauging his wound, unwilling to be restored to command by Jack, whom he feels overshadows him.
Stephen carefully plants a bit of false information regarding Jack’s supposedly substantial political connections, so the admiral decides that, having cheated Jack out of substantial prize, the least he could do is send him back to England with news of the victory to be showered with laurels and money.
Based on the true story of the Mauritius campaign, although apparently set a few years earlier than the actual campaign in 1810 (but then, O’Brian is known to bend chronology a bit), this is definitely the most boring of the Aubrey/Maturin books so far. The number of ships in it, which are the actual ships doing the actual deeds they performed in this campaign, makes this an extremely wearisome book. There is not nearly as much character driven behavior as in the previous three, although I enjoy Stephen’s realization at the end that he has lost the will to go on living, and that his spirit has died while his body is still alive. Diana’s wake, or merely a smart man’s reaction to a barbaric world, one which he continues to make more barbaric due to his espionnage activities? (6/29/04)