Review: Blue at the Mizzen

Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Aubrey/ Maturin saga has ended. It is a time of peace (sort of). The Napoleonic War is over and so the War of 1812. In 1816, the Royal Navy is the master of the oceans. However, Jack has been recruited to help the Chileans win their independence and beat Peru. As part of his cover, the HMS Surprise goes there on an “oceanographic” survey mission. Jack has a new midshipman – Horatio Hanson, possibly the illegitimate son of a duke but as part of his disguise, he uses his putative father’s name Hanson. It is a different world of patronage/nepotism which is odd to westerners in the 21st century after the military reforms in the mid 1800s which got rid of this system forever.

At the end, Jack gets the best news – he has been promoted to admiral and take command of a new squadron. Back then, people paid much more attention to the naval gazette – The List – capital T, capital L – which marked seniority. You knew where you were and who was above and below you, because one day you could serve under them or over them.

For those who have served in the military, you knew you have to serve “time in grade” – X months and years – before being eligible for promotion. In Jack Aubrey’s time, that list was on metaphorical steroids – time in grade plus patronage. At no point was capability a major factor. Thus, you had admirals who had never commanded a fleet or squadron in years but got their promotion because they reached the standard number of years. Unless you did something extraordinary stupid or cowardly, you were promotable.

Jack is an exception (of sorts) because he is lucky and good. All this is to explain why Jack was super happy at the end, even if in peacetime.

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“HMS Surprise” docked at the San Diego Maritime Museum

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