O'Brian readers can expect the same comfortable literary habitat occupied by Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in this 17th installment of the series. Oblique conversations about their back-on shore-wives, over pots of coffee below decks, as the ship sails to far-off assignments is the familiar stuff of past books, but these later installments, this one included, are becoming more parlor scenes at sea than high sea adventure. The books are getting a bit old, along with their creator. But that said, I still enjoyed hanging out with these old friends navigating the sea and the depths of international espionage. What in earlier books were thrilling and seductively drawn out naval battle scenes, in this book are delayed and brief at best, as if O'Brien is deliberately denying the reader the adrenaline fix of a good battle in favor of hanging out with his two aging main characters. It's a case of comfort and domesticity at sea trumping sea adventure, and the rough spice of travelling to the far sides of the world. And it leaves me longing for the earlier books, the far left side of the book shelf. Fortunately, it has been so long since I set out with O'Brien on the first voyage sixteen books ago, that I can look forward to the earlier adventures as if for the first time.
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