Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

The Thirteen Gun Salute, by Patrick O'Brian

Someday I will learn where the good break points in reading the Aubrey/Maturin books are, because the end of a book is never one. Wait, that's not true, because the end of the the previous book, The Letter of Marque was a good stopping point.

So this book took me nearly three weeks to finish, and I read four other books in the meantime. It took me a while to get into it, but once I was halfway through it rolled along smoothly. The book is a parallel of HMS Surprise, in a way, because it is once again about sending an envoy to Malay (the title is a reference to the salute due to a royal envoy). There's a wonderful if brief section where Maturin -- a naturalist by inclination -- visits a Buddhist temple located in a crater in Kumai, quite arduous to get to and almost magical on arrival: the Buddhists don't allow animals to be killed there, and there are few predators, so the local animals are all quite unafraid. I will give the book an 8 overall, and now I'm going to discuss a bunch of spoilers because I want to write about the content.
Master and Commander</u>, the ship's master has an unrequited crush on Aubrey, and it's rather adorable. Aubrey never notices. Maturin does.) Most of the characters either don't notice or politely pretend not to notice sexual orientation.

In The Thirteen Gun Salute, one aspect of Fox's character noted at his introduction is that he has a surprisingly intense hatred for Wray and Ledward, two English traitors now in service to the French and who form part of the French mission to Pulo Prabang (the specific country Fox is an envoy to, so their opposite number). My first concern was that Fox was "protesting too much" and would turn out to be a traitor himself. As the book went on, there was a scene between Maturin and Fox where Fox appeared to be on the point of confessing to some sin, and Maturin deterred him from doing so (concerned that Fox would resent Maturin for knowing it later if he continued.) The nature of the confession is therefore never made clear, although the suggestion is that it would have been sexual in nature. And I thought "I wonder if Fox and Ledward were lovers, and that's why Fox's hatred is so keen, because he takes the betrayal personally?" Still later scenes where Fox and Ledward are both present and Fox's hatred of Ledward is described as 'obvious in his expression' made me more inclined to this view, especially after Ledward (and Wray! Both of them? o_O) are discovered seducing the Sultan's male concubine.

Later still, only a few chapters from the end of the book, Aubrey is reading the Articles of War as part of a Sunday ceremony. At this point, pretty much the whole ship resents Fox for his arrogance and lack of consideration for the crew. When Aubrey reads out the section that declares sodomy a hanging offense, a number of the crew are cited as giving pointed looks towards Fox.

And that is the closest O'Brian comes to commenting on Fox's sexual behavior. There is never an explicit confirmation or denial of my suspicions. The implication is extremely understated, based on so few facts that I would hesitate to mention it at all were it not for the way the crew singled out Fox for attention on that one particular article. And given that Wray and Ledward are very definitely dead by the end of the book, and Fox is almost certainly dead as well, I doubt I will ever know for sure. It struck me as interesting, the way attention is drawn to the hatred between Ledward and Fox and the reader left on her own to explain it.

Also on the topic of Wray and Ledward: the manner in which their deaths comes up is absolutely shocking. Maturin brings a couple of cadavers to a naturalist friend for dissection, and as they're cutting up the first one, Stephen mentions very casually that he knows him: "I was acquainted with him in London, a Mr. Wray."

"Death was caused by this bullet-wound, I see: a rifle-bullet. How curious."

"Just so. That was also the case with his companion, the heavier one, whom you met once or twice; and the wound was equally recent. Perhaps they had been fighting."

And I'm like ZOMG MATURIN YOU KILLED THE TWO MAJOR VILLAINS FOR THE LAST FIVE BOOKS OFF-CAMERA AND NOW YOU ARE CUTTING THEM UP FOR PARTS. Maturin is not responsible for as many deaths as Aubrey -- who orders his men into battle and has sunk enemy vessels -- but when Maturin kills people he is STONE COLD about it. BRR.
Tags: book review, books, review
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