Meanwhile, back at the war. Also, back to my summaries...four months it has been since my last Aubrey/Maturin post (usual SPOILER alert). After the far-flung adventures of Desolation Island and The Fortune of War, and the espionage/love story of The Surgeon's Mate, with The Ionian Mission we are reminded that Boney has not yet been defeated. We are also reminded that war is not all chases, plots, and heroism: There is drudgery, there is the boredom that is often part of duty. Maturin and Aubrey have to get back to work.
Fortunately, not only does O'Brian make the repetitiveness of life in an ongoing blockade entertaining, he also breaks the repetition. Our last book took us north to the Baltic. This time the Mediterranean that started the show is explored in the Ionian Islands of Greece, where Turkish beys--politicians and pirates--squabble amongst themselves and attempt win the favor, or at least the play the allegiance, of Britain. Once again the sly methods of the Doctor and the martial skills of Lucky Jack must come together for the mission to succeed.
I am not even half way through O'Brian's series. At some point we know Boney must lose. Yet O'Brian's naval universe stands both interesting in its own right and always expanding into new territories. With Lesbians and red-bearded corsairs now in the mix, who am I to complain?
|"Everard Barge Passing HMS Worcester at Greenhithe" by Anthony Blackman|
(1) Dr. Stephen Maturin and his new wife, Diana, live in an odd but effective marriage arrangement. Maturin, ever surrounded by the trappings of medicine and the secrecy demanded by his role as spy, lives at the inn The Grapes. Diana, with her intense social life, lives in a modern house in Half Moon Street. Yet they are perpetually visiting each other and are happier than ever. Maturin is preparing to join his particular friend, Capt. Jack Aubrey, who has taken an unenviable command, the 74-gun Worcester, which will take part in the never-ending blockade of Toulon. In fact, Maturin is also preparing for a another assignment. Diana and Maturin have a farewell dinner party, joined by the charming Jagiello, who then takes Maturin south to Portsmouth in his coach. After an accident, Maturin barely makes the departure in time; Aubrey has to ignore the signal to get underway and almost misses the tide. The frowns that greet Maturin’s arrival are turned that evening at dinner, but the officers are far from happy. They have been assigned to an infamously poorly made vessel—a “coffin ship”—and to the monotony of the blockade.
|"Moonlight on the Hamoaze" by Mark Myers|
(2) At Hamoaze, near Plymouth, Aubrey crews his ship by both recruitment and impressment. He is pleased to gain experienced seamen from the Skate but is not at all content to be saddled with parsons for the voyage. Aubrey also obtains a private stock of powder from a fireworks-maker. A strong southwester comes, battering the increasingly aged and fragile British Navy. When the wind backs, Aubrey and the 613 souls under his command slip into the Channel, hoping to catch the Brest squadron blown off station. Aubrey practices his guns, the antimony in his special powder flashing red, blue, and green, making for a cheerful exercise. The Worcester makes for the Ile de Groix. Sail is spotted on the larboard beam, a two-decker that is revealed to be the 74-gun Jemmapes. After letting the French fire three rounds, Worcester offers a colorful but ineffective broadside. The Jemmapes runs and is too fast for the Worcester. Not only have they lost their prize, but also Maturin has “copped it” during the action.
(3) Maturin recovers from his spectacular but insignificant wounds as the Worcester sails south. He is attended by the clergymen, one of whom, Graham, is more accurately a professor of moral philosophy. The ship pulls into Gibraltar for maintenance, and the men go ashore. Graham reveals himself to also be in the intelligence community when he offers Maturin a job, which Maturin declines. The Worcester ready to sail for Port Mahon, all of the clergy disembark save Parson Martin, with whom Maturin can at least chat with about birds. They gain the unfortunate Third Lieutenant Somers, a poor mariner and a drunk. Finally, the Worcester reaches the blockade. Aubrey meets with the old, formidable Admiral Thornton…and is bit by the Admiral’s dog.
|"The Blockade of Toulon 1810-1814" by Thomas Luny (Thanks, Pauline!)|
(4) Aubrey dines with his old friend Dundas and learns of the sad state of the Admiral and his fleet—all pretty ships, but a state of stagnation with scarcely even a possibility of action. The men are healthy but, cut off from the outside world, likely to come to conflict amongst themselves; court martials are frequent. Maturin visits the Admiral, tells him of his missions to Spain and France, and learns that the Admiral deals as much with the politics of the Mediterranean countries as he does commanding a navy. A blow comes on, yet the French do nothing. And so the Worcester enters the routine of the blockade, more like a perpetual dress parade than a military mission. Aubrey trains his midshipmen and wonders if he is still “lucky.”
(5) The officers and crew of the Worcester work hard by day but play by night. Music is one of their biggest joys. Maturin and Aubrey play together as always, and the ship forms a choir. A bizarre episode unfolds one Sunday during church when quails, exhausted from a long migration, begin dropping on the deck. Lt. Somers grows more troublesome, and, after embarrassing the ship by missing stays, is exchanged for a Mr. Rowan. The crew begins to prepare for a performance of Hamlet. The dear Surprise arrives with post: Aubrey receives letters from Sophie at home, and Maturin receives some notes from Diana and a coded communication from his chief of Intelligence, Sir Joseph Blaine. Then the Dryad arrives under Babbington, whose usual woman troubles now have him embroiled with two of Aubrey’s nemeses, Harte and Wray.
|"Muhammad Ali Pasha" by Auguste Couder|
|"Coastal Marsh - France" by William Lewis|
(7) Aubrey returns to the fleet, the diplomacy in Barka having failed as well. He learns to his dismay that Harte’s original intention was to have the French break neutrality by sacrificing Babbington. The Admiral saves Aubrey from dishonor, but this does not soften the disappointment. Aubrey is ordered to Port Mahon for stores and for Maturin. The Captain’s lessened reputation leads to low morale and discipline problems among the crew. Aubrey returns to his old haunts, Port Mahon, now under the control of friendly Spain and much more quiet than years ago. Mercedes, his old flame at the Crown, however, is still there and greets Aubrey very warmly. Maturin interrupts the near indiscretion, and for once it is his turn to cry, “There is not a moment to lose!” Worcester departs eagerly to deliver Maturin to the mouth of the Aigouille River in France, where he is to meet well-placed men opposed to Bonaparte. After a swift trip, Maturin is taken ashore at night. He hikes through reeds and meets the agent Leclerc, who is nervous among the sounds in the dark. Suddenly they hear sporadic gunfire. Leclerc runs, and Maturin hides. He hears steps approaching. It turns out to be Professor Graham!
|"A Storm on a Mediterranean Coast" by Claude-Joseph Vernet|
(8) They return to the fleet. Graham is indebted to Maturin for blowing his plan, which is advantageous as Graham is fluent in Turkish. The crew fight boredom by preparing to perform an oratorio, sails turned into togas. The Surprise appears again and says that the French fleet is out, 17 ships of the line and 5 frigates. The British rush west to intercept, knowing that a decisive action could turn or even end the war and hoping that the experienced coordination of the blockade and the weather gage may give them the advantage. The wind freshens, and the sea turns ugly. They find the French but do not have the weather gage; the French simply flee. Aubrey fights the Mediterranean at its worst, trying to sail a heavy, weak ship. As the sea gets more spiteful, battle becomes more and more improbable as the opponents race with no change and no progress. Even the speedier frigates have no luck engaging their foes. The engagement is called off. Then the Worcester breaks.
(9) The battered Worcester and the fleet return to
|"Somewhere in the Ionian Sea" by Samir Sokhn|
(10) Surprise reaches the Ionian Islands. Their first destination is Mesenteron, controlled by Ismail Bey. After being kept waiting, Aubrey and associates are invited ashore for a meal in the Turkish style. Aubrey finds the Bey “oily,” a politician whose only real advantage is favor in Constantinople. The next candidate is Mustapha, ruler of Karia and Capitan-Bey of the 32-gun Torgud. Mustapha is a big, red-bearded warrior, enthusiastic about his guns and his blunt military plan to take Kutali. His thirty-six-pounder is an especially remarkable weapon, but Bonden recognizes it as being made by the French. Aubrey sees Mustapha as able but not necessarily to be trusted. Surprise then arrives at Kutali, a beautiful bay but a vulnerable town. They are greeted not by they Bey, Sciahan, but by the Orthodox pope, leader of the local Christian population. After touring the town, they climb to view the target, Marga. Finally, they meet the Bey, and Aubrey instantly decides that he is the easy choice to ally with.
|"British Sailors Boarding A Greek Pirate"|
(11) Aubrey begins to reinforce Kutali, fearing what the other Beys might do. Graham is furious with Jack’s rash, unadvised decision, and even