|<- The Nutmeg of Consolation<||The Wine-Dark Sea ->|
Jack experiences his first ill mood of middle age and it is not improved when he learns that Mr. Oakes has smuggled aboard a convict, Clarissa Havrill, with the knowledge of the entire crew save himself. After briefly contemplating marooning them both, Jack eludes a pursuing English ship until they can be married.
Their pursuer is not hunting down Clarissa and Padeen: it carries orders to proceed to Moahu in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), where English fur trading vessels often stop between Canton and the west coast of America, and there to back the side most likely to accept English rule in a civil war that threatens trade.
En route, however, the mysterious Clarissa, though not beautiful, bewitches nearly all of the officers with her kindness. Only Stephen manages to piece together Clarissa’s story: victim of incest as a young child, she wants very much to be liked but harbors a ruthless streak. She began working as a bookkeeper and sometime prostitute (for she regards sex as meaningless) near Whitehall and was sentenced to transportation for murder, rescued from the gallows by the intercession of one of Stephen’s fellow members of the club Black’s. Aboard the Surprise, she has slept with not only Oakes but lieutenants West and Davidge and possibly Martin, creating enormous jealousy in the gun room. The division of officers ultimately threatens to divide the Surprise’s entire crew, since the watches are loyal to their individual captains.
However for all the chaos she creates for Jack, Clarissa does offers Stephen a fascinating bit of information—Ledward and Wray were clients of her brothel (which also had male prostitutes) and were often joined by a certain duke whom Clarissa noticed wouldn’t acknowledge them in public. Stephen believes this man is the highly placed traitor who orchestrated their escape and betrayed the South American mission to the Spanish and writes Joseph Blaine, planning to return Clarissa (illegally) to England.
Meanwhile, while watering at a south Pacific island, Jack learns from a merchant ship the situation on Moahu has escalated with the arrival of the Franklin, an American privateer financed by the French, crewed by Cajuns and Québécois, under Captain Jean Dutourd, an acquaintance of Stephen. Dutourd has seized the British trade ship Truelove and is backing the rebel Kalahua’s northern side of the island in a war against Queen Puolani on the southern side. Dutourd has utopian ideals and plans to set up a society without property, but he will deal brutally with those that resist.
For the remainder of the voyage, Jack drives the crew hard to restore the discipline and unity Clarissa has ruined, while Stephen obsesses about the lack of details in Diana’s letters about their daughter (while Sophie hints to Jack that all might not be right with the infant).
Jack makes landfall only to discover the Franklin has left in pursuit of a prize while Kalahua’s men and some French mercenaries attack with the one gun they’ve salvaged from the Truelove. Jack recaptures the Truelove and offers to assist the formidable Puolani in exchange for her loyalty to England. When she agrees, they set an ambush for Kalahua and the French and cut them to ribbons using hidden cannonades firing case shot.
At a feast afterward, the islanders eat Kalahua and the French leader while the Englishmen, discovering in the nick of time what’s on the menu, stick with pork and fish. Jack spends the night with Pualani but in the morning the Franklin is seen returning.
In a flourish of activity, Jack sends Oakes and Clarissa (bearing letters of introduction to Blaine and Diana) into Batavia with the Truelove and they set out in pursuit of the Franklin. As he watches Clarissa sail away, Stephen realizes how much he’ll miss her.
This book is very different from the previous books in the series. Not only does Clarissa Oakes nearly manage to join Jack and Stephen as a main character, but she is the source of a character driven story which unites the novel in a way completely new to the series. I really enjoy the ending which drives home the idea that Stephen and Clarissa have fallen in love and neither one realized it. I certainly hope Clarissa returns. She shares Stephen’s dual personality, polite and urbane with the capacity for monstrosity, and watching the two of them together would be wonderful. And it appears all is not right with Diana, to no one’s surprise... (6/24/06)