Running off to sea again with Lucky Jack Aubrey and his BFFF (and my imaginary boyfriend) Dr Stephen Maturin has been long overdue, and so it was with an eager hand that I opened The Mauritius Command. I wasn't disappointed as it turned out to be as rollicking good fun as its predecessors, even if I still don't know my mizen from my masthead.
Having married his sweetheart, Sophie, and settled in a long-dreamed for cottage, The Mauritius Command finds Jack Aubrey on land and on half pay. His dreams didn't quite match reality, however, and the cottage is not only pokey but also contains his domineering mother-in-law and two hairless twins who, to make matters worse, aren't even boys. His cabbages are being munched by caterpillars, and even the bees that were Dr Maturin's gift have died (not the bees!). Thank heavens then, for the timely reappearance of Stephen and a set of secret orders to sail the frigate Boadicea to the Cape and onto Mauritius, where Jack is to harry the French while flying a Commodore's pendant.
A step-up in command brings its own problems, however, and Jack is soon striving for success while managing the difficult personalities of the Captains under him - the showy and insecure Clonfert, the capable but cruel Corbett who takes better care of his brass than his men, and Pym, the numpty whose incompetence nearly spells disaster - while Stephen spreads subversive literature and schools the crews in an early bit of Hearts and Minds - no thieving and raping, please, gentlemen!
Everything that I've come to love about this series is still present and correct - the fantastic characterisation, the astounding amounts of food that Jack puts away, the wonderful insights into life at sea and the throwaway asides that make me snort ("...the surviving swine struck down into the hold together with the goat, which, in the general silence, could be heard bleating angrily for its long overdue tobacco") and most of all, the relationship between Jack and Stephen ("Jack loved him, and had not the least objection to granting him all the erudition in the world, while remaining inwardly convinced that in all practical matters other than physic and surgery Stephen should never be allowed out alone.")
Ahhhh, Stephen. Skilled surgeon, dedicated naturalist, super-spy, the man I'd most want on my side in an argument and an all round colossus of a character, Stephen has wormed his way into being my favourite character of all time, and made it look as easy as kiss my hand. Wibble.
I was going to give this a four as its not even the best that I've read in this series so far, but sod it. I loved every minute of it so much, it's getting a five.