My rating: 4 of 5 stars
At the beginning of The Nutmeg of Consolation, we find Captain Jack Aubrey, Dr. Stephen Maturin and the rest of the surviving crew of the Diane right where we left them at the end of The Thirteen-Gun Salute - shipwrecked on an island in the South China Sea where they were tossed by the typhoon that destroyed their ship. They've been there for a while now and foodstuffs on the island are getting low. Their situation is becoming more desperate.
They have been busily engaged in building a schooner with timbers salvaged from the wrecked Diane. They hope to escape the island in it and sail to Batavia where they can find assistance. Before that can happen though, they are visited by a group of Malays who at first seem friendly and are engaged to carry a message to Batavia for the castaways. Unfortunately, the Malays turn out to be pirates and return later to ravage the camp, killing many of the crew and setting fire to the half-completed schooner.
In the end, Aubrey and his men are able to repel the attackers and utterly destroy them and their boat, but they are left without their schooner and must start over again. The situation is not looking hopeful.
But their luck turns. While Stephen is out hunting for their dinner, he comes across some children, one of whom has an injured leg. They are from a junk lying just off shore that is captained by their father. Stephen treats the boy's injury and in return the junk picks up the stranded men and finally delivers them safely to Batavia where Captain Aubrey is given another ship to command, a recently captured Dutch vessel. Finally, the new vessel is stocked and Aubrey and his crew are on their way again, headed to their rendezvous with Captain Tom Pullings and the Surprise.
Nothing ever comes easy in these Patrick O'Brian adventures, of course, and before they can hook up with the Surprise, they encounter a French ship and a chase ensues, ending in the destruction of the French vessel and the happy discovery that it had been commanded by an old friend whom they take aboard.
Reunited with the Surprise and finally on their way again, they plan to stop off at a particular island to pick up fresh fruit to help stave off scurvy, but when they reach the island, they find to their horror that it has been visited by small pox. Everyone in the village is dead - except for two small girls. The little girls have barely managed to survive on their own. Stephen takes them aboard along with the fruit they've been able to gather.
And now they are headed for a stop at the dreadful penal colony at New South Wales and their adventures have only begun!
In an author's note at the beginning, O'Brian details some of the research that he did for this book. He relied heavily on contemporary newspapers and the Naval Chronicle as well as several books about the times and the places in this story. As always, he has been meticulous and the writing rings true. One feels that one in there in the early 19th century world. The language is elegant and layered and once again I am reminded very much of the books of that period by Jane Austen. The subject matter is certainly different but the language feels much the same and I can offer no higher praise to O'Brian's work.
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