In the early spring of 1802, a peace treaty is signed between Britain and Napoleon. Jack Aubrey and several of his young officers, along with Stephen Maturin, are out of a job and retire in the south of England. It's pretty boring, save for a trio of sisters -- Sophia, Cecilia, and Frances Williams -- who live nearby with their insufferable mother, and a cousin named Diana Villiers, a young widow of 27. For a time it's horse riding and dances, but suddenly Aubrey is in deep financial trouble: his prize-agent has absconded with the firm's money, and a prize-ship Aubrey had taken was denied, so he now owes 11,000 pounds to creditors. Jack and Stephen slip away to France for a friendly visit with old rivals, and then Bonaparte is poised to invade Britain. It's war again in 1804! By the time Aubrey is able to sneak back to London, all the good ships have been assigned, and he has to settle for an odd, experimental boat that's pointed at both ends, called the "Polychrest." His despised former superior Harte is now an admiral above him, which is little comfort. Worse, though Aubrey is quite taken with demure Sophia Williams, he's also charmed by aggressive flirt Diana, who also has been spending a lot of time with Maturin (who we now learn is a spy for Britain). By the climax of this, the second novel in the series, the two friends have challenged each other to a duel, Aubrey faces another pro forma court martial for losing the Polychrest in a port battle in northern France, and Maturin has thoroughly annoyed a ship by bringing a hive of 60,000 bees on board. A giant step beyond _Master and Commander_ in quality and complexity.
This report prepared by David Loftus