Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian: B+

From the back cover:
“We’ve beat them before and we’ll beat them again.” In 1803 Napoleon smashes the Peace of Amiens, and Captain Jack Aubrey, R. N., taking refuge in France from his creditors, is interned. He escapes from France, from debtors’ prison, from a possible mutiny, and pursues his quarry straight into the mouth of a French-held harbor.

There were certain things about this book that I loved very much, but on the whole it was sprawling and went on a bit too long. In addition to the events listed above (note: Jack did not escape from debtors’ prison; he evaded those who wished to send him there) there were many more, including romance, jealousy between Stephen and Jack, an interval in which Jack is disguised as a dancing bear, a planned duel between the two protagonists, riveting navel battles, a promotion, and the appearance of approximately sixty thousand bees.

Probably the most significant thing that happened in Post Captain was the conflict between Stephen and Jack, arising partly over women and partly over Stephen’s secrets. When peace is initially declared, Stephen and Jack took a house in the country and there became acquainted with a family of eligible daughters (and a cousin). Jack was quite taken with the eldest daughter (Sophie) and Stephen with the cousin (Diana), though neither man had wealth enough to be considered a good prospect. After Jack’s prize agent skipped out with all of his money, he was so out of matrimonial contention that the girls’ mother whisked them off to Bath to get away from him and everyone discovered that they’d never liked Jack much anyway.

For the rest of the novel, the guys mooned about over their chosen women, though Jack also seemed to fancy Diana. After witnessing all sorts of hidden sides of Stephen (a capacity for “a hard ruthlessness,” a proficiency with weapons, general secrecy), Jack finally erupted and they got into a jealous quarrel, culminating in insulting accusations and plans for a duel. All of this conflict was extremely interesting, though it reflected well on neither of them. Jack could not make up his mind about the two women, and Stephen was fixated upon Diana, whom I just couldn’t like. I thoroughly understand a woman’s need to do as well for herself as possible, but she was very manipulative of the guys’ feelings and about as high maintenance as they come.

I liked better the funny bits between Jack and Stephen, during which there were many lines and scenes to crack me up. One of the best was the method by which they escaped from France, and how it took a few pages before one realized that the bear trainer and his furry charge were actually our two protagonists. There was also an absolutely wonderful bit where Jack pondered giving a sermon to the crew and Stephen erupted in uncontrollable, squeaky laughter.

Another big thing in Post Captain was the amount of development Stephen received. I’m not exactly sure when he began spying for the Admiralty, but he was doing it all over the place here, and displaying all sorts of hidden talents and such. In many ways, he and Jack are the perfect slashy couple. You have the open-hearted, robust one who follows his passions with little self-governance, and is hurt when he discovers facets of his friend that he hadn’t previously been aware of, since he himself has withheld nothing. Then you have the cold and logical one who nonetheless adores his friend and looks out for him and his happiness. It’s pretty squee-inducing.

Though I did enjoy this novel, it was, as I said, quite sprawling. I think I’ll take a little break before I continue on to the next installment.

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