O’Brian, Patrick: (11) The Reverse of the Medal (spoilers)

SPOILERS for The Reverse of the Medal; here’s the non-spoiler post if you got here by mistake.

I looked at a page detailing the historical timeline of the events that the series fictionalizes (which now I can’t find; it’s not this one), and saw Cochrane’s conviction for stock market fraud. Since the book so kindly defines a “letter of marque” early on; since I knew the title of the next book was, in fact, The Letter of Marque; and since the play with Palmer is tolerably transparent once you know those two things, well, it was no great deduction to see what was going to happen. As I said, it’s all so very well set up, but the suspense might have been fun. (Is anyone reading this who read the books as they were published? Was it awful reading this and worrying that maybe O’Brian would kill off Jack—I believe a hanging for fraud is mentioned early on?)

(Huh. On closer inspection of the book, I see that my edition, at least, puts the author’s note about Cochrane’s trial at the front; which may serve the same function in reducing suspense. The audiobook puts that at the end.)

Such a clever structural stroke: it increases the stakes for Jack, gives him a new set of challenges, and keeps him in the Surprise which is more exciting and more sentimental than a big frigate on the North American station.

Also, it did not escape my notice that Stephen gets his own challenge in the form of Diana running off. (I was going to say that it was a backhanded kind of fortune for Jack, that his dismissal should give Sophie something to occupy her mind other than Samuel Panda—what a lovely character—but that’s deeply unfair to Sophie, who was most kind and sensible about it. I do love the image of her coming home to find the house turned out, naval-fashion: “there was nothing she preferred to a really commodious loose-box.”)

On reflection, I do think that since the Wray plot extended over this many books, it couldn’t have been kept from the reader. It’s too long and too much of a cheat to reveal it only now, at the same time as Stephen learns; and the omniscient narrator’s revelation gives a different kind of tension, wondering if the characters will figure it out in time.

I choked up at the sailors cheering; of course I did. I defy anyone who’s got this far in the series to not.

(I admit, I was so eager to hear what happens next that I’m already into chapter 3 of the next book, so quite a lot of what is occurring to me now is actually from the next book. I think that’s enough for now, regardless.)


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  1. I read them out of order, so I knew exactly what would happen, poor dear Jack, and he feels it so much — but I happened to read the end on a bus, which turned out to be hideously embarassing when I couldn’t stop crying, because though I knew Jack would be condemned and go on a letter of marque and so on, I had no idea about the cheering, and it pushed all my buttons.
    Incidentally, the cheering really happened for Cochrane.

  2. Yes, a bus would be a really bad place to read that scene. (I was driving, which of course had its own risks.)
    And that’s wonderful about them really cheering for Cochrane, too.

  3. I started reading the series right after The Wine Dark Sea (book #16) was published, so I didn’t come to it “unspoiled”; in fact, I looked at the title of “The Thirteen-gun Salute” (coincidentally, or not, the thirteenth book) and thought “wow, that’s quick, Jack not only restored to the list, but given his flag, in just two books.” Ahem. Yes, I was wrong (the thirteen gun salute doesn’t refer to Jack).
    You put your finger on one thing that this accomplishes structurally–it sets Jack and Stephen loose to do what they do best, go gallivanting around the world on a several-book arc as free agents in the dear Surprise.
    And yes, the cheering at the ending is a lovely stroke.

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