The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian
Published by Norton
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian is the tenth volume of the long-running Aubrey/Maturin Chronicles. After multiple adventures in the Medeterranean, Jack Aubrey had been looking forward to returning to England and sorting out his financial problems, the results of having been gulled by a mountebank who claimed to be able to recover lead and silver from the tailings of an old mine. Instead he receives orders to take his frigate, HMS Surprise, into the Pacific Ocean to combat an American frigate which has been preying upon British whalers.
Getting there proves easier said than done, for there is trouble among the crew. The ship's gunner has been permitted to bring his wife aboard, a lovely young lass who soon becomes the favorite of the midshipmen. When one of the midshipmen, an unhappy man who was passed for lieutenant but somehow never got his commission, starts an affair with her, there can only be trouble. Terrified of her husband's brutal rages, she begs Stephen Maturin to help her get rid of the pregnancy. However, he considers any form of abortifacent a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, so she turns to his assistant, a tooth-puller who also dabbles in quackery. Soon she is deathly ill and the gunner is in a murderous fury.
Aubrey no sooner has dealt with that when a careless accident on a foggy night leave him and Maturin floating on the open Pacific. They are rescued by a boatload of lovely Polynesians, only to discover that this is no rescue at all. These women are fierce cannibals who have turned the memory of past wrongs into a hatred for all men. Somehow Maturin must contrive to get himself and Aubrey safely away before they become the main course in a ritual meal.
As always, O'Brian gives us the usual superb characterization of his two protagonists. Aubrey and Maturin see things as a ship's captain and a physician/spy would and solve their problems with the techniques and habits of thought to be expected of members of their professions. It is particularly interesting to watch Aubrey see the Polynesian warrior-women's craft and crew in terms of his own experiences in the Royal Navy.
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Review posted January 20, 2000
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