Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML: Life ashore may once again be the undoing of Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy. Aubrey, now a considerable though impoverished landowner, has dimmed his prospects at the Admiralty by his erratic voting as a member of Parliament; he is feuding with his neighbor, a man with strong Navy connections who wants to enclose the common land between their estates; and he is on even worse terms with his wife, Sophie, whose mother has ferreted out a most damaging trove of old personal letters. Even Jack's exploits at sea turn sour when, in the storm waters off Brest, he captures a French privateer laden with gold and ivoryâ??but at the expense of missing a signal and deserting his post. Worst of all, in the spring of 1814, peace breaks out, and Aubrey fears being "yellowed," that is, nominally promoted to the rank of admiral without a squadron to command. Fortunately, Jack is not left to his own devices. Stephen Maturin returns from a mission in France with the news that the Chileans, to secure their independence, require a navy, and the service of English officers. Jack is savoring this apparent reprieve for his career, as well as Sophie's forgiveness, when he receives an urgent dispatch ordering him to Gibraltar: Napoleon has escaped from Elba.
Back ashore in England, Stephen is broke and Jack is once again an impecunious landowner. Jack's fortune is tied up in lawsuits related to his actions off West Africa suppressing the slave trade. To make matters worse (or more interesting), Jack's marriage is on the rocks as a result of Sophie's mother finding evidence of Jack's past infidelity. At the Admiralty, Jack's prospects are dimmed by his actions as a Member of Parliament and his opposition to the enclosure of a commons near his estate. As a side note, Patrick O'Brien clearly understands and has the ability to describe the political and economic aspects of enclosing a commons. He weaves this into the story without technical jargon and in an interesting manner. Even at sea, Jack has trouble. He captures a French privateer laden with gold and ivory, but the Admiralty believes that he ignored signals for personal gain. Troubles mount for Jack and his fear of being `yellowed' seems that it might become a reality.
When all seems lost for Jack, Stephen returns from a mission in France and back to England with forgiveness from Sophie and a reprieve for his career in the form of a possible mission to secure Chilean independence. This is especially important because the war has ended, further dimming prospects for his chance for an Admiral's flag. By the book's end, both Jack and Stephen see their personal fortunes somewhat or completely restored. And just as Jack is looking forward to this reprieve for his career, Jack is ordered to Gibraltar because Napoleon has escaped from Elba.
The description of the plot on the back of my edition evidently feels the lack of action acutely, as its description of the plot is distinctly and humorously misleading.
Jack is opposed to this threat to a common in his domain, so goes to the hearing about it and objects, effectively stopping the action in its tracks. This makes Jack a hero to the common folk but sets him at odds with the landowner who wanted inclosures for himself, a former navy man whose uncle is the admiral in charge of Jack's squadron. The admiral finds Jack negligent, greedy and other things in the course of his duty to protect the waters around Brest, effectively preventing him from getting his blue flag, an honorable promotion and the next logical step considering Aubrey's illustrious career.
In addition, Jack has suffered because of foolish indiscretions with a woman whose love letters to JA have fallen into the hands of his mother in law, a vindictive old bitty. Sophie speaks words of bitterness to Jack who goes to her seeking forgiveness.
In contrast, Stephen and Diana are experiencing marital bliss. She is as understanding of men's flaws as a feminist can be, urging Sophie to back at Jack by getting some for herself.
The war is winding down, signaling the end of a naval career, the end of a series. There is a melancholy flavor to this book, not unlike the Letter of Marque, when Jack was disgraced and thrown from the service.
Still I eagerly look to the next volume in the series. The characters remain complex, intriguing, and develop with each book. I especially liked learning about advances in medicine, and Stephen's curiosity about the use of maggots to clean wounds.
While on the Brest blockade aboard the HMS Bellona, Jack receives worse news that his mother-in-law found papers from an indiscreet affair he had in Canada during book seven, The Surgeonâ€™s Mate. She gave these letters to Sophie, his wife, who is enraged and plans to leave him. Stephen also worries about his fortune, as the Spanish authorities seek to confiscate it for his part in supporting Peruvian independence during The Wine-Dark Sea, which leaves he and his wife, Diana, in dire straits. Fortunately, events begin to change when Diana and Clarissa Oakes intervene with Sophie. Stephen receives word that his fortune is preserved and, though connections with Sir Joseph Blaine, arranges a way for Jack to distinguish himself should peace break out, thereby making it possible for him to advance without being yellowed. As the novel nears its end, Napoleon is defeated and exiled to Elba. The Brest blockade returns to port for paying off and Stephen helps Jack to secure a new position doing hydrographical work while also advancing the cause of independence in Chile. They ready the Surprise, bringing their families for a cruise to Madeira where they will meet the Chilean operatives. While enjoying a brief vacation, Jack receives word that Napoleon has escaped and that he has been reinstated to blockade the Straits of Gibraltar.
At times, The Yellow Admiral feels very much like an interim novel, but it does have some great character development which is one of Oâ€™Brianâ€™s strengths, particularly as readers are devoted to these characters by this point. The focus on fortuneâ€™s fickle nature is a recurrent theme in the series and works well here, with a midshipmanâ€™s death perfectly demonstrating its power for sailors. Oâ€™Brian also does a good job capturing the changing times, with enclosure altering the countryside and the commons. Fans who have made it this far will find the material they expect from Oâ€™Brian, including some nice puns. This Folio Society edition reprints the original text with insets containing historical portraits and sketches to illustrate some of the scenes and maps on the endpapers to help readers visualize the geography of the Brest coastline.