- Paperback: 350 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; 8th Impression edition (1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0006499244
- ISBN-13: 978-0006499244
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 183 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,278,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Desolation Island Paperback – 1996
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This is the fifth volume (in order of publication) of the famous Aubrey-Maturin series by the late Patrick O'Brian.
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Once orders are in hand, Aubrey's new command is almost immediately fraught with troubles: the ship has to take on a compliment of convicts bound for Australia, as well as several women - both are sure sources of conflict on such a long voyage. Underway, problems multiply as the ship is soon beset with disease, chased by a Dutch warship 1/3 again the size of Aubrey's, and his ship is beaten and battered by storms and severely damaged by icebergs.
I was initially attracted to the O'Brian series through his almost obsessive detail to life under sail and the vivid writing of naval warfare. Soon, however, I was pulled in by the growth of his characters and the depths of the bonds between Aubrey and Maturin. O'Brian again impresses, this time with the description of daily life at sea (which one would normally imagine to be one of monotony, but somehow here is both romantic and engaging) and the development of Maturin, both as intelligence officer as well as naturalist. The creative ways in which Aubrey addresses and resolves the myriad of problems he is best with also kept me in rapt attention. Further, O'Brian also shows another aspect of life in the Royal Navy at the dawn of the 19th century: that of floating diplomat, Cpt. Aubrey walking a fine line as he negotiates and works with the crew of an American whaler, precisely at a time when tensions between Britain and America are particularly frayed, relations simmering just prior to the War of 1812.
That five books in to the series an author can still suprise and create a world with such detail and specificity and can still develop characters without becoming cliched or worn continues to impress me. The series is occupying most of my spare time, such is the way in which my imagination has been captured by O'Brian's writing. The series gets my highest recommendations.
In this novel we also meet the mysterious Louisa Wogan, who has loose ties to Diana Villiers from previous novels and may be a either a spy or a wrongly convicted woman on her way to Botany Bay. she will play heavily in the future of this series.
This chapter of the saga has less action but in exchange we delve deeply into the intrigue of spies.
I highly recommend this novel for anyone who is a fan or who like historical fiction.
Patrick O'Brian writes to satisfy almost any taste among those willing to undertake a built-in short course in 18th century phrasing and elegant style, but I've often read here that those who expect non-stop action from the Age of Sail will be disappointed in this series. I suppose there's an element of truth to that, but "Desolation Island" fills that void for those who need it, and particularly for the sailors among us.
Mr. O'Brian leaves nothing to chance in the world of nautical lore, and all of his books are filled with the kind of marine knowledge and terminology that will make any sailor smile -particularly the antiquarians- but "Desolation Island" takes things to a new level. In this book, Captain Aubrey commands "the horrible old Leopard", the same HMS Leopard of the Leopard-Chesapeake Affair that nearly touched off the American War of 1812 before its time, but with another Captain in charge, of course.
The sequence of events in the book leads to a masterfully woven tale of cat-and-mouse and eventual confrontation between HMS Leopard and a much more powerful Dutch 74, the Waakzamheid. I won't reveal how that turns out, but I will say that the pursuit of the Leopard by the Waakzamheid through and below the "Roaring 40s" is far and away the most spine-tingling, nail-biting, hair-raising (I've run out of hyphenated horrors) episode I've ever read from the Age of Sail. I suspect that any sailor who's ever been "caught out" in a Force 12 gale with mountainous following seas, cross seas and rogue waves will feel the need of a very, very strong "toddy" to calm the trembles after reading it. Non-drinkers will probably have to settle for a Valium.
Other events in this excellent book make it one of the most thrilling in the Aubrey/Maturin series, but sailors will likely enjoy it even more than most. That is, if stark terror amounts to a form of enjoyment. There. I finished this review without breaking into a cold sweat... again. A great read!