Napoleon has been defeated at Waterloo, and the ensuing peace takes on an ugly complexion for Captain Jack Aubrey: there are drunken, violent celebrations by the English sailors in Gibraltar; nearly half his crew deserts; and his career prospects are suddenly dimmed in a peacetime navy. To cap it off, the Surprise is nearly sunk in a collision on her way to South America, where Jack and Stephen Maturin are to help Chile assert her independence from Spain. And the delay occasioned by repairs has some strange consequences . . .