The story picks up from the end of Blue at the Mizzen, when Jack Aubrey receives the news, in Chile, of his elevation to flag rank: Rear Admiral of the Blue Squadron, with orders to sail to the South Africa station. This new novel, unfinished and untitled at the time of O’Brian’s death, would have been a chronicle of that mission, and much else besides.
As the novel opens, we are able to visit these friends we have followed so very far in a rare state of almost perfect felicity. Jack has seen his illegitimate son ably discharging important duties. Sophie and his daughters are with him; Brigid is with her father, she's thriving, and Stephen is with a woman who is very dear to him. Jack, at last, is flying a rear-admiral's flag aboard a ship of the line.
And so this great ‘roman fleuve’ comes to an end with Jack, with his ‘sacred blue flag’, sailing through fair, sweet days – Stephen with his dissections and new love, Killick muttering darkly over the toasted cheese….
Of course, we would rather have had the whole story; instead we have this proof that O’Brian’s powers of observation, his humour and his understanding of his characters were undiminished to the end.
"There is nothing in this century that rivals Patrick O’Brian’s achievement in his chosen genre. His novels embrace with loving clarity the full richness of the 18th-century world. They embody the cruelty of battle, the comedy of men’s lives, the uncertain fears that plague their hearts; and yet, not far away, is the vision of an ideal existence." (Amanda Foreman,
New York Times)
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