The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian

Published by Norton

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian is the sixth volume of the long-running Aubrey/Maturin Chronicles. Jack Aubrey finally limps the battered Leopard into port after his harrowing adventures on the trip to Australia. Almost immediately it is determined that the poor old warship simply isn't adequate for service without a major refit, so Jack is to be packed back to England for a new command.

He and a few of his closest followers, including surgeon Stephen Maturin, board the frigate La Fleche (originally a prize captured from the French and bought into the Royal Navy, but retaining its name), anticipating a relatively smooth trip. Dr. Maturin settles in to study the multitude of biological specimens he collected during the stay on Desolation Island.

One disastrous night the ship catches fire and burns to the waterline. Officers and crew have only moments to gather a few possessions before they board the ill-provisioned boats for a desperate journey to Brazil. By the time they are rescued by the Java, they are in dire straits indeed, and one man has already died of exposure. The surviving crew are so weak that they have to be hoisted aboard in the bosun's chair.

Even that reprieve is not long-lived, for the United States has declared war on the United Kingom over the impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy. The Java is attacked and sunk by the American frigate Constitution, and her men are taken prisoner. Off Jack and Stephen go to Boston, where the past comes back to haunt them. Jack's tenure as commander of the Leopard is held against him, never mind that the incident that gained American enmity happened long before he ever boarded the unlucky ship. Stephen's earlier work as an intelligence officer has left old enmities that threaten to burst onto the surface and destroy him. They must steer a course through these troubles and find safety.

This is a rather interesting read for an American, seeing the War of 1812 through English eyes, with the United States as the enemy. However, it is interesting to see that many of the British officers went to war against the Americans rather sadly, with a sense of bitter destiny taking them against estranged brothers rather than with the violent hatred and delight in victory with which they fought the French.

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Review posted January 17, 2000

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