Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian

Published by Norton

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian is the twentieth volume in the long-running Aubrey/Maturin series, and with the author's death, it most likely will be the last. (There are rumors that parts of a twenty-first book were found among O'Brian's papers, but it is to be hoped that these will not be farmed out to a junior author for completion, since such posthumous collaborations are generally disappointing). The Napoleonic Wars are over, and Jack Aubrey watches in horror as his ship's company disintegrates into dissipation in the wild celebrations of the crushing victory at Waterloo.

His only hope to keep his crew in anything resembling order is to put them to sea as quickly as possible. However, that may well be easier said than done, for every manner of trouble besets them. In a night of dirty weather they crash into an unlighted and badly-handled merchant ship, damaging the Surprise's bow and sending the ship running back to harbor for a refit. Even that proves a difficulty, and Jack must pay extra for private shipwrights to do the work, since his relationship with the Navy is rather tenuous at best.

Finally he and his crew set sail for South America, ostentiably on a scientific voyage but secretly to aid Peru's rebellion against the Spanish crown. However, everything Jack Aubrey does is constantly haunted by dread as to his impending promotion. He is very high on the list of post-captains, but his past problems lead to a very real possibility that he will be passed over for promotion to rear-admiral of the blue; in naval parlance, he will be "yellowed." Such is his dread of such a nominal promotion to flag rank without squadron, which would be the irrevocable end of his naval career, that he is unable to take any joy in life. This melancholy worries his good friend Stephen Maturin, but even a physician's skills can do little for this.

In all, this book is an excellent conclusion to the Aubrey/Maturin Chronicles, with a fairly satisfying resolution at the end. One might have wished further installments, detailing the adventures of these two good friends after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but at the same time, it is hard to imagine what incidents could provide the sort of stirring adventure that made the earlier volumes so well-loved.

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Review posted December 28, 2000

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