This is book number six in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. I enjoyed the previous one so much I thought it would be a difficult act to follow, but I actually found this one just as good – and maybe even better. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, I would recommend beginning with the first of the series, Master and Commander, and saving this review until you’ve caught up; otherwise, although I have tried to avoid too many spoilers in this post, you may come across something you would prefer not to know just yet.
The Fortune of War picks up the story shortly after Desolation Island ended. With his ship HMS Leopard declared unfit, Jack receives orders to return to England to take command of a forty-gun frigate, the Acasta. He and Stephen Maturin, accompanied by several other members of the crew, begin the long journey home as passengers on the courier ship La Flèche. Early in the voyage, however, they learn that war has broken out between Britain and America – the War of 1812 – and following a series of disasters, they are taken prisoner and find themselves brought to Boston, which is now enemy territory. At first, despite being wounded in the arm, Jack is not too worried; he’s sure there will be an exchange of prisoners soon and then they can be on their way again. The Americans, though, are convinced that there had been a spy on board the Leopard and are not about to let their suspects escape so easily!
I really enjoyed this book, after an initial panic where I found I couldn’t remember what happened at the end of Desolation Island. I think I need to stop leaving such long gaps between books! Luckily, though, Jack gives a recap to the Admiral in the first chapter and this serves as a reminder for the reader too. Once I settled back into the flow of the story, I loved it, particularly the parts of the novel set in Boston where Stephen’s spying activities come to the forefront. This leads to exciting scenes which are different from anything we’ve read in the series so far.
Stephen also has his long-awaited reunion with Diana Villiers, the woman he loves and who broke his heart at the end of HMS Surprise – but Diana has changed and it seems that his own feelings for her have changed too. Despite his disillusionment I found Diana much easier to like in this book than I did in the earlier ones, although with so much still unresolved by the end, I was left wondering whether they will find any happiness in the next book or whether their relationship will continue down its tempestuous path.
I have stopped worrying about the nautical terminology in these novels. I appreciate the authenticity O’Brian brings to the naval scenes, the level of his research and of course, his writing ability, but I know I’m never going to be able to follow everything that is happening; as long as I can understand the outcome of each battle or manoeuvre I’m happy! I think this must be the first book in the series where Jack has not actually had a ship of his own to command, but he and Stephen still manage to get caught up in two naval actions, both of which are closely based on real events from the War of 1812.
The next book in the series is The Surgeon’s Mate and based on the quality of the last two books I’m really looking forward to it.