At the time of his death, Patrick O'Brian was halfway through a novel to follow on from Blue at the Mizzen. These are the chapters he had completed of the final voyage of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin – the greatest friendship of modern literature.
The story picks up from the end of Blue at the Mizzen when Jack Aubrey receives the news, in Chile, of his elevation to flag rank: Rear Admiral of the Blue Squadron, with orders to sail to the South Africa station. This new novel, unfinished and untitled at the time of O'Brian's death, would have been a chronicle of that mission, and much else besides.
As the novel opens, we are able to visit these friends we have followed so very far in a rare state of almost perfect felicity. Jack has seen his illegitimate son ably discharging important duties. Sophie and his daughters are with him; Brigid is with her father, she's thriving, and Stephen is with a woman who is very dear to him. Jack, at last, is flying a rear-admiral's flag aboard a ship of the line.
The chapters left on O'Brian's death are presented here both in printed version – including his corrections to the typescript – and a facsimile of his manuscript, which goes several pages beyond the end of the typescript and includes marginal notes by O'Brian.
And so this great 'roman fleuve' comes to an end with Jack, with his 'sacred blue flag', sailing through fair, sweet days - Stephen with his dissections and new love, Killick muttering darkly over the toasted cheese… Of course, we would rather have had the whole story; instead we have this proof that O'Brian's powers of observation, his humour and his understanding of his characters were undiminished to the end.