October Books 8) The Far Side Of The World, by Patrick O'Brian
'These youngsters think too much of their ease,' said Jack. 'They are nothing but a parcel of helots.' 'Pray have helots a particular nautical signification, like dogs, mice, fishes and so on?' asked Stephen. 'Oh no, just the ordinary sense of idle young devils, you know - limbs of Satan. I must stir them up, and make their lives a misery.'
This is more like it. I was vaguely under the impression that this came next in the series after Desolation Island; it doesn't (there are another four in between), but it doesn't really matter. The plot as such is pretty minimal - Aubrey is sent to pursue an American ship in the South Atlantic and the Pacific, with a dramatic denouement - but there's a lovely comforting amount of social, historical and geographical detail through which we navigate, including a thrilling passage where our heroes are captured by Polynesian warrior women. There's a brilliant bit about the difference in working cultures between warships and whalers, which may perhaps be O'Brian's response to Melville fans. My one complaint is that my copy of the book is missing pages 183-214, so I had to check Wikipedia to discover the end of the subplot involving the aging midshipman and the gunner's wife. But I'll look out for more of these, not as a top priority but as a very pleasant read.