This is the unfinished manuscript that O'Brian was writing at the time of his death. It stops during chapter 3 and comprises perhaps a quarter of a book. The publisher chose to alternate the author's typewritten pages with the handwritten pages he typed it from -- it looks like he wrote longhand then typed himself. The longhand version goes on for several pages after the typescript ended, and the publisher opted to publish facsimiles of those pages without having anyone type them, perhaps because an accurate reading of O'Brian's handwriting is quite a challenge. I struggled through them anyway, mostly to see Maturin duel with a fatuous idiot introduced in this book.
It has some scenes (like that one, and rather delightful descriptions of Aubrey and Maturin bringing their families out to sea) that make me glad I read it. But it does have a sense of being not merely incomplete but unpolished. The prose is just not really in finished version, or what one expects of O'Brian.
I have read many, many stories by dead authors, but for some reading this book and even the previous finished one made me melancholy for O'Brian's passing. I don't know why. Perhaps because, as alltoseek says, it reads like one long story and I never do have a sense of "okay, this is where it ends".
It's okay that 21 stops in the middle, though. I often felt like these books did. They were true to life in that respect: no points where everything wraps up neatly and nothing new has started. There was always something more.
I'll give this one a 6. Overall, I'm happy to have read this series, and sorry it's over. But maybe now I'll get back to doing the group read on Dreamwidth. They're up to Desolation Island now!
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