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A Fine Addition to a Great Series
on 30 June 1999
A year ago I read "Master and Commander" and was impressed. A month ago I read "Post Captain" and was hooked. Now I've read eleven of the installments of what has to be one of the great novels of the century.
"The Fortune of War" is an epic, moving installment that works on many levels. Although a Yankee, I can't help but feel for Jack and the Brits as they try to salvage some honor from the War of 1812, a rather dishonorable war for all concerned. Who could fail to be moved by the image of the Constitution holding its fire rather than destroy the helpless Java? Or Captain Lawrence tipping his hat to Jack from the deck of the Chesapeake, only to be killed immediately afterward (O'Brian doesn't mention that it was Lawrence who said "Don't give up the Ship"). The battle scenes are thrilling but tinged with regret.
In order to fit Jack and Stephen into actual historical events O'Brian has to put them into the background, and we share their anguish as one British ship after another falls victim to the tiny but tough American navy. Remember, this is during the Napoleonic wars, and the Americans were effectively allied with the Hitler of that day.
This book was apparently written with Homer in mind. Jack and Stephen are unwilling participants in historical events, when all they really want to do is to go home, Jack to a new command (so he can come back and whip the Americans) and Stephen to deliver an important message to Sir Joseph. In between battles, shipwreck, near starvation, and certain execution, O'Brian finds time to consider timeless notions of duty, honor, loyalty and freedom.