Saturday, October 22, 2011

"The Hundred Days" - a review..

"It is true that in the community of mariners the "not quite exactly" opinion was widely held; for although Stephen could now tell the difference between starboard and larboard, it still called for some reflection: and it marked the limit of his powers. This general view, however, in no way affected their deep respect for him as a medical man: his work with a trephine or a saw, sometimes carried out on open deck for the sake of the light, excited universal admiration, and it was said that if he chose, and if the tide were still making, he could save you although you were already three parts dead and mouldy. Furthermore, a small half of one of his boluses would blow the backside off a bullock."

This book is something of a joy, as the Mediterranean has always been Jack's lucky hunting ground - even from the beginning of his career - and in this book with Napoleon escaped from St Helena, and Europe again descended into war, Aubrey is dispatched as commodore of a small flotilla into that very sea...

The book starts with his mission to defend a convoy of East Indiamen from a Moorish fleet of corsairs. He is successful in this and on his return to Gibraltar, Aubrey is then instructed to proceed to the Adriatic to seek and destroy any French forces, and then to proceed to Algiers.

Stopping off in Mahon (Menorca) along the way Aubrey and the crew of the Surprise encounter a French Royalist ship that gives him valuable intelligence on the French situation in the Adriatic

The flotilla then take on and defeat two further French frigates - one by battle, the other by "agreement" (the captain was a Royalist); after this second battle Matruin comes up with a scheme to lay out a considerable amount of gold to have a large number of French ships currently being built destroyed by the already disgruntled dockworkers who had not been paid for their work - the scheme is an unmitigated success....

Aubrey then departs for the second part of his mission which is to go to Algiers with the intention of defeating a scheme by a Muslim confederacy to prevent or delay the junction of the Russian and Prussian armies. They intend to do this with a largely mercenary force, and Aubrey mission is to stop the (large) payment required to buy them.After many adventures in the Atlas mountains hunting and shooting a lion who is about to attack the new Dey (sultan) - Maturin is given a promise that no assistance will be given to the Muslim plot. Maturin's colleague however discovers that the Dey's Vizier (a Bonapartiste) is conspiring to have the money sent by a fast-sailing xebec.

While waiting to be picked up and returned to the flotilla with this news, and in a priceless part of the story, Maturin ends up buying two Irish children in the slave market - they then rejoin Aubrey and take the flotilla back to Gibraltar to report.

I think it fair to say that Aubrey is not on the best of terms with the new admiral in charge (Lord Keith has retired), and he is worried that he will not be given the mission to capture the treasure ship but in the end all works out well as Maturin's influence with the admirals intelligence advisor, and Jacks relationship to the admiral's new wife, cause a thaw in their relations.

Armed with new intelligence on the enemies plans, Jack lays in wait for the treasure ship and when it opens fire on them, he chases it and finally corners it at Cranc (Crab) island where they manage to force it's surrender by hauling a nine-pounder gun to the top of a cliff so that they can fire down on it...

After returning victorious to Gibraltar, it looks like they will lose out on the prize money as the Vizier (who has in the meanwhile assassinated the Dey, and taken the crown) requests the return of the ship and treasure; happily he too is deposed and the prize money is confirmed...

The end of the book coincides with Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, and Aubrey and Maturin set sail for Chile in the Surprise to complete the mission they started in the Yellow Admiral...

Steve the Wargamer rates this one as a definite nine out of ten - the battle scenes are stunning, the technical references are so readable, there is comedy (you have to laugh at the scene in the slave market when Stephen buys the children out of slavery ), pathos (at the very beginning of the book Stephen's wife Diana dies, as does Aubrey's mother-in-law, in a crash when Diana's rash driving overturns their coach) , and downright sadness (Jack's coxswain, Bonden, is killed in this book)....  read it at once!

2 comments:

  1. I reread this last week - it is certainly a treat.

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  2. Absolutely it's a treat. Such consumate writing, such evocative descriptions of the life and times! I swear O'Brien was there, disguised, perhaps, as Stephen Maturin... ;)

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