The Fortune of War
May 1, 2018 10:01 AM - by Patrick O'Brian - Subscribe

In the sixth book of the twenty book series, the Leopard slinks into Batavia from the previous book, presumed lost at sea and our protagonists presumed dead. Thereafter a wombat munches lace, persons are subfusc, Jack matches wits with an admirable Drury, Stephen hurlies the wickets, kangaroos grow fractious, Java is sunk, the weevil thing happens, Doctor McLean hae Stephen's bukes, spirits are spilling and La Flèche is weak, thighs are nibbled in the night, it's 1812, maneuvers are damned, Java is sunk, Yankees Doodle, tobacco is spat, a harbor full of beans is overthunk, Herapaths heist, prawling strangles are gluppited, an obsidian phallus brains a Frenchman, Stephen achieves a stalemate, and the Shannon restores pride to the disgusting British Empire.

‘Joe,’ came a voice from the darkness under the Arcturus’s stern. ‘Joe. Are youse a-going out?’
‘I ain’t Joe,’ said Jack.
‘Who are you, then?’ asked the boat, now visible.
‘Jack.’
‘Where’s Joe?’
‘Gone to Salem.’
‘Are youse a-going out, Jack?’
‘Maybe.’
‘You got any bait, Jack?’
‘No.’
‘Well, fuck you, Jack.’
• Jo Walton's Tor.com 2010 reread.
Chesapeake Mill.
These videos on tall ship sailing and maneuvers are worth watching.
• For more general links see the Post Captain post.

Bonden Bulletin: secures Maturin's collections, makes a Constitution check, loses a handsbreadth of scalp to a splinter, manacled by Boston Joe.

Babbington's Doings: His Newfie Pollux was eaten by the Friendly Islanders between books. Quite into cricket, "had distinguished himself by notching forty-seven runs against the Marylebone club on Broad Halfpenny Down itself," but is out immediately. Relates the death of young Mr. Forshaw, the spirited protector of Maturin: blasted over the side by a cannonball.

Mowett Report: Doesn't really appear in the book but has been missing since Master and Commander almost. Taken from the Peacock by the Hornet, laid up in a hospital in New York. Mowett provides the occasion for Jack to befriend Captain Lawrence, and Stephen recites one of his poems

Byron Times: Appeared in previous book, a "great nephew or grandson" of the Admiral Lord Byron (aka "Foul Weather Jack"). He's a kind of a Babbington Lite. On the Java, "Copped it with a nasty splinter in his chest" and ends up looking "a bit old fashioned". Not sure if dead.

Which It's Killick: Is regularly washing and darning Maturin's two and a half shirts. He sews a staysail out of ditty-bags, is missed for his coffee and his way of saying 'Wittles is up.'

Most Ignominious Death: Lt. Watt, of the Shannon, blasted by her guns while hoisting the wrong fucking flag on the captured Chesapeake.

Maturin on: Diana's manners
It occurred to him that she had spent these last few years entirely among men, seeing no women apart from a few like Louisa Wogan; she spoke rather as men, and somewhat raffish, moneyed, loose-living men, speak when they are alone together. ‘She has forgotten the distinction between what can and what cannot be said,’ he reflected. ‘A few more years of this company, and she would not scruple to fart.’
posted by fleacircus (21 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
A few years ago I read the first few A/M books, and I wasn't sure if I'd stopped with Desolation Island or with Fortune of War. As I worked through this one, it was only barely ringing a bell, and I thought "hmm maybe I stopped with Desolation Island and then read the wikipedia summary for this, or something."

Then I got to the scene where Maturin clubs a man over the head with a big ol' dong and then casually slits his unconscious throat with a razor and I was like "oh, wait, I have DEFINITELY read THIS before."
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:01 AM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Really hard not to imagine Sacha Baron Cohen as Pontet-Canet.

This is my least favorite book so far. I do love Aubrey's battle of "wits" with Admiral Drury, for example, but by the end of the book I feel like the "British pride" aspect gets stifling and flattening, and the straight modest reverence for Broke and the Shannon is not my cup of tea.

Also I imagine Yorke is basically sweating when he meets Aubrey, "Hey uh everyone thinks you're dead and I visited your wife but it was all very innocent my old friend ha ha."
posted by fleacircus at 12:07 PM on May 1, 2018


Also I love it when Maturin makes up fake sea lingo gibberish like, "gluppit the prawling strangles", and I also love it when he tries to pass himself off as a naval expert to civilians in high smugness.
posted by fleacircus at 3:39 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I completely forgot about Pollux and somehow missed how his demise came to be. (I really love your character bulletins!)
posted by small_ruminant at 4:32 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I love it when Maturin makes up fake sea lingo gibberish like, "gluppit the prawling strangles"

Me too, since that is essentially what I hear in my head when I read the technical parts of these books. (Those videos actually helped quite a bit, but I'm still nowhere near satisfied with my level of understanding.)

That sort of leads me to a question that came up when I was telling a friend about these books - how much of his audience would Patrick OBrian have expected to understand all of the technical stuff?
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:39 PM on May 1, 2018


...spirits are spilling and La Flèche is weak...

First of all, how dare you.
posted by merriment at 7:58 AM on May 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


oh how clearly i remember FOOLISHLY thinking, on first read, how nice it was that they were to have a relaxing and pleasant cruise home on la fleche, only to end up exploded, shipwrecked, rescued, defeated in battle, half dead and imprisoned by colonials not 100 pages later.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:32 AM on May 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


how much of his audience would Patrick OBrian have expected to understand all of the technical stuff?

wrt this, the next book has an interesting note in the forward about the kind of letters o'brian received from certain fans and his thoughts on allowances in accuracy of detail vs what he wanted in terms of narrative flow for more general readers.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:56 PM on May 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Omg. So, I had perma-borrowed the first three of these books from my dad over Christmas, read the first one, and then (encouraged by this reread club) I picked up and breezed through the second and third ones. Then I started buying them on my kindle, one after the other. Like chain smoking. I just started book 8 this morning.

Just now I went and checked my amazon account page to find out how rapidly I've been reading them, and discovered to my mild horror that I read the entirety of books 4, 5, 6, and 7 in the space of eight days. No wonder I have no goddamn clean laundry.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:19 PM on May 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm already halfway through the next book, though I think some of that was happily getting away from Boston.
posted by fleacircus at 5:07 PM on May 2, 2018


also for anyone who wants to get more background on both specific things in the series as well as general more technical info wrt age of sail ships, i can recommend the p'ob companion a sea of words and the oxford companion to ships and the sea as great reference books.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:39 PM on May 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think it’s really interesting the way O’Brian skips past chunks of time. So this book starts with their visit to Australia and the acquisition of a wombat having happened off-screen, which is understandable — in an age when it took such a long time to get anywhere, cutting out portions of the journeys makes sense. But more strikingly, after the sinking of the Flèche, we cut to them all in the boat many days later, sunburnt, starved and short of water. Surviving a shipwreck, out at sea in a small boat, flirting with cannibalism; it could easily be the material for a whole novel. Similarly, most of Stephen’s spy-work in the first few books happens off-stage. I think it’s a fascinating technique.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 9:16 AM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


flirting with cannibalism

Which.... seems to be kind of an unspoken matter of fact of survival here? O'Brian glides over it quite lightly, but there's first the tacit acceptance of "hey, he died, but let's not be too hasty about tossing him over the side yet" and then as rescue nears a more overt discussion of whether they should toss the body now -- in part because WE ATE HIS THIGH LAST NIGHT -- or bring it in for a decent burial. And they bring the body; even though it's presumably fairly obvious that HEY YOU ATE HIS THIGH.

Jo Walton's reread calls the burning of the La Fleche "suddenly and unexpected"; I thought it was very strongly implied that the cause was likely McLean's incessant smoking around Stephen's highly-flammable preserved specimens.

Herapath senior desperately wants the rescue of Stephen to be a dashing caper: we'll lower them in a laundry basket! Jack will be in blackface for no particularly good reason! But in the end it ends up being much more prosaic: the Frenchmen leave and Jack pretty much just walks up and fetches Stephen and Diana.

Broke's letter to Lawrence: basically "come and have a go if you think you are hard enough". And there was a nice symmetry between the Java/Constitution action and the Shannon/Chesapeake action: the first lost largely due to the Java's unpracticed gunnery, the second won largely due to Broke's rigorous -- and very much to Jack's approval -- drilling of the Shannon's gunners.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:19 AM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


The wombat continues the tradition set by the sloth in HMS Surprise: afraid of Jack's face, gazes adoringly at Stephen's.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:22 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I liked also the wry note that Stephen can't get a decent cup of tea in Boston.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:31 AM on May 9, 2018


Herapath senior desperately wants the rescue of Stephen to be a dashing caper: we'll lower them in a laundry basket! Jack will be in blackface for no particularly good reason! But in the end it ends up being much more prosaic: the Frenchmen leave and Jack pretty much just walks up and fetches Stephen and Diana.

I like how that sequence feels very real in terms of getting caught up in an enthusiastic or even silly plan, with no wits at all being applied. I've been there lol. Jack knows Mr. Herapath is wobbly and sort of tactfully shelves all of Mr. Herapath's dumb plans. OTOH Jack doesn't really know what to do either... he is kind of mentally locked in on the rope hanging from the balcony that Stephen used, because he's a sailor and all, but Jack's arm is all fucked up and he probably can't climb it and he can't quite come up with anything else.

the first lost largely due to the Java's unpracticed gunnery, the second won largely due to Broke's rigorous -- and very much to Jack's approval -- drilling of the Shannon's gunners

The difference being Broke (and Aubrey's) private wealth, spent on gunpowder for training, which Lambert didn't have.
posted by fleacircus at 7:05 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I thought it was very strongly implied that the cause was likely McLean's incessant smoking around Stephen's highly-flammable preserved specimens.

Yeah, I felt that was Chekhov’s Gunned pretty hard, although I’m not sure how much it was me half-remembering what happens that made me notice all the hints.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 9:28 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


When the ship blew up, I thought "oh god it's because of that freaking pipe isn't it" - but I enjoyed that it was never explained definitively, because after all, the characters themselves would never have been able to find out for sure what happened.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:03 PM on May 9, 2018


It seemed odd to me that there was no fallout from the loss of La Flêche. Even beyond official enquiry and court martial, Stephen and Jack never even think about it AFAIK. Stephen never reflects on it, Jack never wonders if his friend Yorke is alive.
posted by fleacircus at 8:23 PM on May 9, 2018


Struck me today that the danger of fire aboard ship was lampshaded in Desolation Island: Jack horrified to find Mrs Wogan using a candle in her cabin/cell.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:22 PM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


also the hilarity of jack being unable, in the presence of a woman, to refer to it as he would normally, as a bare or naked flame
posted by poffin boffin at 8:45 PM on May 11, 2018


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