Desolation Island (novel)

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Desolation Island, the fifth volume of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, is a frequent choice of O'Brian readers asked to name their favorite. Not only does "Desolation Island" serve as a strong narrative on its own merits, it can also be viewed as the opening episode of an extended, unbroken storyline that only concludes in The Surgeon's Mate (Desolation Island, The Fortune of War, and Surgeon's Mate might be viewed as a trilogy within the wider bounds of the series) or, alternatively, with The Wine-Dark Sea (the narratives of all nine novels from The Ionian Mission, which follows after Surgeon's Mate, through The Wine-Dark Sea form a single, virtually seamless continuity) .

For more details about the plot, which will contain spoilers, see Summary for Desolation Island.


Although perfectly satisfactory as a straightforward tale of adventure and intrigue, Desolation Island may have legitimate claims to a deeper literary purpose. Harry F. Clark in his 1998 paper Allegory Wrestling, Or Desolation Island Decoded strongly argued that O'Brian used one of the classic themes of Western literature in his novel: the journey of the Hero to the Underworld (a theme stretching back at least to Gilgamesh). Unlike traditional Underworld journeys, however, the novel does not involve an attempt to win back the life of a loved one, except in the sense that the assignment to the Leopard offers opportunities to escape from recent trials of life.

Officers on HMS Leopard

  • Thomas Pullings -- First Lieutenant (Takes ill and is sent ashore in Brazil)
  • James Grant -- Second Lieutenant (Acting First Lieutenant)
  • William Babbington -- Third Lieutenant (Acting Second Lieutenant, and eventually Acting First Lieutenant)
  • Turnbull -- Fourth Lieutenant (Acting Third Lieutenant)
  • Byron -- Senior Midshipman (Acting Fourth lieutenant)
  • Combermere -- Signal Midshipman
  • Weatherby -- Midshipman
  • Sommers -- Midshipman
  • Boyle -- Midshipman
  • Clarke -- Midshipman
  • Hollis -- Midshipman
  • Hillier -- Midshipman
  • Forshaw -- Midshipman
  • Larkin -- Master (Mate: James Stokes)
  • Moore -- Marine Captain
  • William Macpherson -- Marine lieutenant
  • John Condom Howard -- Marine Lieutenant
  • Fisher -- Chaplain
  • Gray -- Carpenter
  • Benton -- Purser
  • Lane -- Boatswain (Mates: Lane, Atkins, Skelton)
  • Burton -- Gunner
  • Needham -- Clerk
  • Barret Bonden -- Coxswain


Books in the Aubrey-Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian

Master and Commander | Post Captain | HMS Surprise | The Mauritius Command | Desolation Island | The Fortune of War | The Surgeon's Mate | The Ionian Mission | Treason's Harbour | The Far Side of the World | The Reverse of the Medal | The Letter of  Marque | The Thirteen-Gun Salute | The Nutmeg of Consolation | Clarissa Oakes/The Truelove | The Wine-Dark Sea | The Commodore | The Yellow Admiral | The Hundred Days | Blue at the Mizzen | 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

Other books by Patrick O'Brian
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