My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin are still in the South Seas in this 15th entry in Patrick O'Brian's series. It's a rather slow moving tale that doesn't seem to advance the Aubrey/Maturin saga that much - at least until near the end when Maturin gets a clue that may identify a highly placed English spy in the pay of Napoleon's intelligence service. It's a name he has been seeking for a while.
The storyline this time is that Captain Aubrey and the Surprise have been dispatched by the Royal Navy to the Sandwich Islands where a British whaler has been captured by a local chief at the instigation and with the assistance of the French. Intelligence reveals that there are two warring chiefs on the island - the northern one who has allied himself with the French and the southern one who turns out to be a particularly handsome woman of about 35. Aubrey's mission is to offer his assistance to the southern chief and seek to persuade her to accept British "protection."
Complications arise on the trip to the islands when Aubrey discovers that there is a woman aboard his ship. She was brought aboard from the penal colony at Botany Bay by one of his officers and was hidden away. Of course, everyone on the ship, including Stephen, knew she was there except for the captain and when he finds out, he is furious.
The woman, Clarissa Harvill, becomes an object of awkward courtliness to the men of the Surprise but some of the men are attracted to her and this creates predictable jealousies and hard feelings. Aubrey sees his ship falling into chaos and he takes strong and - for him - unusual measures to bring the men back into line before they must face the French and their allies in the Sandwich Islands.
Meantime, Aubrey himself finds that he is attracted to the woman and that he must make an effort to stay clear of her. Maturin, on the other hand, strikes up a friendship with her and learns the story of her lurid past. He begins to understand her personality and he respects and values her. This respect is proved warranted when she provides him with the clue which may well lead to the identity of the dangerous spy he has been seeking.
Part of the problem of the woman's presence is solved when she is married to her rescuer, Oakes. With the protection of being a woman married to a British officer, it is unlikely she will be returned to Botany Bay.
Also still on board the ship are the two little girls who Stephen rescued from the small pox-ridden island where everyone except them had died. They have been named Sarah and Emily and are favorites with the crew.
And there is another escapee from Botany Bay - Stephen's servant, Padeen. All in all, the Surprise has become one big rescue operation.
There's not a lot of action in this entry. At the end, we hear of the confrontation and battle with the French and the islanders, but we experience it through Stephen and Padeen's eyes; i.e., from well behind the lines of the action.
While The Truelove certainly was not my favorite in this series so far, it was a workmanlike bit of writing and a pleasant diversion for a couple of days of reading. It's always good to spend some time with Aubrey and Maturin.
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