Patrick O'Brian,
Post Captain
(William Collins Sons & Co., 1972;
W.W. Norton, 1990)

Lucky Jack Aubrey lives up to his nickname in Post Captain, the second in Patrick O'Brian's extraordinary series of books about life in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars.

But his luck isn't always so good.

The book begins with Aubrey and his dear friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin, living the high life in England on the spoils of war. Their adventures in Master & Commander left them -- especially Aubrey -- with a tidy fortune to spend and squander. That means deluxe accommodations, parties and even a bit of romance.

But Aubrey's luck goes south when a large chunk of prize money is revoked, leaving him deep in debt and on the lam from bailiffs who would toss him in debtors' prison. A respectable marriage, poor man, is now beyond his grasp. Unable to secure a promotion or post with the navy -- there are far more captains than there are ships, despite the build-up towards another war with France -- Aubrey and Maturin flee to Europe to hide out at Maturin's estate in Spain.

Alas, France declares war on England before they can quit the country, and Aubrey is forced into a humiliating charade to escape across the border to Spain. Then, feeling his services will be needed in the war, he sails back to England -- but the ship on which he embarks is waylaid by a privateer. When he finally does make it home, the ship he is given to command is the laughingstock of the fleet.

Don't worry, his luck does get better.

Post Captain is another excellent chapter in the Aubrey/Maturin saga, and O'Brian's luminous dialogue and careful explanation of nautical manuveurs make the text educational as well as fun. The series is proving impossible to put down!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 11 September 2004

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