We find Dr Maturin finally married to Diana, but not exactly finding domestic bliss: two highly independent people unsurprisingly not actually cohabitating well. But they’re making it work.
We find Lucky Jack Aubrey finding some domestic bliss, despite his (secret) infidelity and his continuing and constant money troubles. We also find him in temporary command of the HMS Worcester, an ancient ship of the line, with 74 guns and 99 problems — but it’s the best he can do since those in power still don’t really like him personally.
They are bound for the blockade of Toulon, as well as a secret mission in Barcelona for Agent Maturin — who is of course un-stylishly late for the launch and almost causes them to miss the tide. It’s a skeleton crew (no prizes on offer in a blockade), but it’s an all-star skeleton crew, with lots of familiar faces: Pullings, Bonden, Killick, Mowett, etc.
The Worcester heads down to Plymouth to finish fitting out with supplies and men, then sets sail for Toulon. Along the way, they meet the French warship Jemmapes, but a rare error in judgment from Lucky Jack lets the enemy escape, much to Pullings’ disappointment.