It’s been… wow, a decade? Since I read Master and Commander.

So, yes, I can say that you don’t need any detailed knowledge of the first book before reading this. In fact, while the climax of the first book gets brought up a lot, the only impact on this book is that these events happened. There’s no direct consequences.

This one wanders around a bit, establishing a slightly larger cast of characters, and looking deeper into the principle two, especially Maturin, who gets firmly established a spy and believer in Catalonian independence.

It starts with a promise of naval action (without Aubrey involved) that gets cut short. From there, we get a bit upper-class romance, which is undercut a bit by O’Brian’s habit of minimal presentation. There’s not a lot of descriptions given, and a lot of things are condensed down, with a paragraph starting with one conversation, and then flowing directly into a different one. It takes a bit of an attentive eye to follow the extremely stream-of-consciousness transitions, but there are enough hints to follow.

A good chunk of the beginning gets taken up the start of a knot of romance, and money problems that hang over the rest of the book. Of course, this is still a age of sail adventure series, so that can’t last, and Aubrey ends up with a ship that looks to be the inspiration for HMS Fearless in On Basilisk Station. Though in this case, its acknowledged as a failure before ever being put to sea.

From there, there’s usual fitting out, and poor crew dramas of these types of books (and as well done as ever), culminating with the main action scene, and then a secondary action as a denouement, and way to confirm Aubrey’s fortunes are rising. Overall, it’s well written, and obviously setting things up for the long haul of a longer series of books (I’ll have to get to book three is less than a decade…), but that does cause the plot to make almost as much leeway as the Polychrest (um… read the book to get that one).