Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML: Captain Jack Aubrey sets sail for the South China Sea with a new lease on life. Following his dismissal from the Royal Navy on a false accusation, he has earned reinstatement through his daring exploits as a privateer. Now he is to shepherd Stephen Maturinâ??his friend, ship's surgeon, and sometimes intelligence agentâ??on a diplomatic mission to prevent links between Bonaparte and the Malay princes that would put English merchant shipping at risk. The journey of the Diane encompasses a satisfying diversity of adventures. Maturin climbs the Thousand Steps of the sacred crater of the orangutans; a killer typhoon catches Aubrey and his crew trying to work the Diane off a reef; and in the barbaric court of Pulo Prabang, a classic duel of intelligence agents unfolds: the French envoys, well entrenched in the sultan's good graces, against the savage cunning of Stephen Maturin. This eighteenth volume in Patrick O'Brian's highly acclaimed Aubrey-Maturin series is the perfect blend of action, espionage, and adventure on the high seas
Such knowledge of human weaknesses and personalities
If you haven't tried this series of books, do so. If you don't like war novels, do so anyway. If historical fiction just isn't your thing, do so anyway. If the sea never appealed, do so anyway.
If you are curious about the human condition, do so.
Not that it is not still an utter delight and completely satisfying for fans of the series. The aforementioned visit by Stephen to the ruins of a Hindu temple, in the company of an orangutan, is one of the most remarkable moments in the entire series. The shipwreck at the end is as marvelously told as it is shocking to read (one simply cannot credit that the Diane enjoyed such a short lifespan). Also, there is a deep sense of satisfaction when Ledward and Wray, the villains through most of the sequence, finally get theirs, and the manner in which their bodies are disposed is quite shocking. Nonetheless, these were for me moments that reminded me of how consistently I found most of the previous books, instead of how intermittently interesting I found this one.
Interestingly, this is one of the few novels in the series in which the title of the subsequent novels is mentioned. I remember when I first read these books and how little sense I could make of the titles. In many of them the phrase that provides the title can occur well towards the end, such as THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL. But here in THE THIRTEEN-GUN SALUTE (which itself is one of the more ironical in the series, referring to Fox's rather pathetic sense of self importance) the phrase "the nutmeg of consolation" appears, which provides the title for the next novel.
One virtue O'Brian possesses as a writer (among many virtues) is that of understatement. In a genre in which the tendency is to lay things on a bit thick, O'Brian if any thing leaves things deliciously thin. There is no better instance of this than in the fate of Ledward and Wray. Nowhere does O'Brian explicitly explain what happened to them, but instead leaves us to surmise that they were shot by Fox. It is an easy conclusion to make, given Fox's constant target practice in the novel and the statement by Maturin that they were killed by rifle shot (Stephen prefers the pistol). This restraint is one of the things that make his writing so immensely satisfying.
I wish they'd make more of these books into movies. Russell Crowe was fabulous as Capt. Aubrey, and Paul Bettany was the perfect Dr.
O'Brian has a talent for the long game, giving little clues and hints that slowly build to a crescendo. He's unafraid of making his characters unlikable, or absurd, which in turn makes them actually far more interesting.
The novelâs title comes from the practice of saluting envoys with thirteen guns (pg. 93) and the particular envoy in question, Edward Fox, works to persuade the Sultan of Pulo Prabang to become an English ally in order to secure the trade of the East Indies Company. Much of the story focuses on Foxâs self-importance, which slowly grows into insufferableness over the course of the story and upsets naval decorum. Upon reaching their destination, OâBrian demonstrates how distance delays bad news, with characters hearing rumors about a run on the market back home (pg. 155). Meanwhile, Dr. Steven Maturin spends his time with naturalist Cornelius van Buren, who offers intelligence to benefit the English efforts. Through Steven, OâBrian explores more of the culture of the island, its politics and entertainment, as well as a remote Buddhist temple where Steven has the joy to see many rare animals in their natural habitat.
In a fun example of misremembered history that lends further verisimilitude to his characters, OâBrian portrays Jack attempting to teach the midshipmen history, specifically about the American Revolution. Jack asks, âDo you know how it began,â leading to the following exchange:
ââYes, sir. It was about tea, which they did not choose to pay duty on. They called out No reproduction without copulation and tossed it into Boston harbour.â
âJack frowned, considered, and said, âWell, in any event they accomplished little or nothing at sea, that boutââ (pg. 147).
Recalling events from Master and Commander, Jack runs into the nephew of the French officer that captured the crew of the Sophie in that first novel. As neither are in a position to fight the other, they exchange pleasantries and, learning of the French hardship and inability to purchase stores or make speedy repairs, Jack repays the kindness he received while a prisoner of war by easing the Frenchmanâs want for food, thus demonstrating the gentlemanly nature of war in this time (pgs. 228-229). In what may be an act of foreshadowing, the Sultan of Pulo Prabang counts among his titles âthe Nutmeg of Consolationâ (pg. 182), which is the title of the following book. Like a few others in the series, this story ends on something of a cliffhanger, though readers will enjoy the characters despite the lack of battles in this particular novel.
Like the previous six novels, The Thirteen Gun Salute exists outside the normal flow of time â this novel being the seventh of twelve to exist in what OâBrian described as an extended 1812, with these dozen books taking place between the beginning of June 1813 and November 1813. The specific reference to Jack taking command of Diane on the âfifteenth day of May in the fifty-third year of His Majestyâs reignâ (pg. 107) may, perhaps, situate this book in 1814. Those looking for a perfect chronology are advised to simply enjoy the story and the way in which OâBrian perfectly recreates the world of the Napoleonic Wars, using Aubrey and Stephenâs activities to comment on the rapid changes occurring in this era and the passage of time in the seriesâ internal chronology. This Folio Society edition reprints the original text with insets containing historical portraits and sketches to illustrate some of the scenes.
In narrative asides and Stephen's own musings, we learn of his revolutionary past for Irish independence, and 2 new names surface: Mona, an "old sweetheart" and Robert Gough a fellow radical for independence but one espousing alliance with France (United Irishmen), which Stephen rejects.
Observing penguins and a whale swimming as though in an aquarium tank, due to heavy swell and unusually clear waters near Inaccessible Island. A memorable hike to the Kumai Temple within an elevated crater on Borneo. Unorthodox autopsies with Van Buren, thereby and not incidentally disposing of cadavers.
"Lucky" Jack finally is reinstated to the Naval List in this, the thirteenth installment: is this number O'Brian's inspiration for the idea of an envoy? Aboard Diane, Jack takes measurements for Humboldt on salinity & sea temperatures.
The Diane avoids breaching against Inaccessible Island, only to run aground an uncharted reef in the East Indies (on which Welby's marines show their mettle in the face of a typhoon).
Events proceed from May "in the 53rd year of His Majesty's reign", and close unspecified months later.
Indebted to Schuyler's "Butcher's Bill" for chronology and names, and multiple cross-references.