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A Passage to India,
This review is from: HMS Surprise (Hardcover)
This third offering from O'Brian of the Aubrey & Maturin seafaring tales is a somewhat sluggish and at times rather a monotonous addition to the series. It lacks excitement, a compelling plot and a lot of the interaction between the two that were a hallmark of the excellent predecessor, 'Post Captain'. O'Brian tries to compensate for a lack of these things by setting the tale in sunnier climes, namely the Indian Ocean, but all he succeeds in doing is bore us in exotic surroundings.
This tale carries on from the rather upbeat 'Post Captain' where Jack Aubrey, fresh from his promotion and heroics in tackling the Spanish squadron off Cadiz aboard the 'Lively' is brought heavily down to earth by the revelation that his rich pickings were 'not prize'.
Despite a daring raid to free a compromised Stephen Maturin from the hands of the French in Minorca, and an interesting and meticulously authentic description of the 'Surprise's' voyage through the 'roaring forties' and onto Bombay, this tale somehow just fails to grip. There are too many periods when nothing happens and the constant nautical jargon does somewhat start to grate, even if it is faultless in its detail and authenticity as ever.
The voyage of Jack's new command, the 'Surprise', is basically that of a transport ship, as they are detailed to convey a British envoy, the rather tragic figure of Mr Stanhope, to his new post in Kampong. Jack of course is always on the lookout for a prize, and in particular the Linois squadron rumoured to be in Indian waters. When the long awaited showdown arrives it all ends in a bit of a damp squib really, but is notable for the 'call to arms' of a large number of Indiamen (merchant ships)
The love life's of Jack and Stephen are a constant thread again in this instalment. But whereas Jack emerges from this adventure with his love life (surprisingly it must be said) relatively intact, Stephen goes through torment and even mortal danger as a result of his fatal attraction for Diana Villiers the siren who broke his heart in 'Post Captain', and who nearly destroys Stephen again.
For those snared into the world of Aubrey & Maturin by the excellent 'Master & Commander' and its worthy sequel, 'Post Captain', may well find this instalment a tad wearisome. I sailed through the first two at a fair rate of knots but found in this one I had become mentally almost totally becalmed, almost to the point of abandoning ship. However certain features remain from the previous novels, namely the unparalleled attention to detail and sheer believability of O'Brian's description of life aboard a Nelsonian frigate, for that alone it is worth giving it a go.