In which Maturin and Aubrey become prisoners of war of the newly formed United States, both are suspected of being spies, and Diana Villers is back. Daring escapes! Love affairs! Cold blooded murders! And of course, exciting ship battles!
It's a bit odd to see the early US from a British POV, especially since so many of the American characters seem to think they're British. Aubrey and Maturin are in fine form once more--their banter is top notch, and I love the little moments where the reader can see how one sees the other. We also get reintroduced to Haropath (the ancient Chinese scholar) and his unrequited love, Mrs. Wogan (espionage badass, neglectful mother, and delightful conversationalist). And while we get deep in Maturin's head while he ruminates on his need for his diary andd an enduring love to combat his crippling depression, the reader also gets more insight into Aubrey. Aubrey isn't in command for this book, being mostly a guest or a prisoner of war throughout, and he's physically weaker than ever before as well.
We're also reminded of how awesome Diana Villers can be. Possibly she gets badass scenes because O'Brian wanted her to seem worthy of Maturin, possibly O'Brian just likes her as much as I do. She's the kind of character who walks past the bloody corpses of former friends to get her jewels; who refuses to translate documents for her protector because she has too much loyalty toward the country of her former citizenship; who shoots rats in the dark hold of a ship while waiting to see if she'll be hanged. For all that this series is purportedly about Napoleonic naval battles, the characterization in it is top-notch.
And the battles! O'Brian whips the tension up until I was so stressed whilst listening to the last battle that I actually had to stop the recording and catch my breath. Tull does a fantastic job reading this, btw--I've complained about his reading style before, but he's much better in this. The long pauses between sentences and even words, the artificially drawled last syllables, the long sighs in the midst of words--none are here! Frabjous day.
One of the best Maturin&Aubrey books yet.