After finding The Mauritius Command rather sombre and focused more on the mechanics of the campaign than on the characters, I was pleased to find that I enjoyed Desolation Island much more. After some time working for the Navy ashore, Jack Aubrey is given command of the Leopard with orders to take her to Botany Bay and a cargo of convicts, including a spy who Stephen Maturin has been given the task of covertly obtaining information from. As neither Jack nor Stephen has been entirely thriving on land (Jack's fair and trusting nature makes him an easy mark for dodgy tradesmen and card-sharps, while Stephen has been taking more and more laundanam in an attempt to ease his broken heart) this voyage is a good thing for both of them, but after a promising start they are beset with difficulties; an outbreak of gaol-fever (typhus) kills a third of the crew, while several others are left too weak to travel and have to be put ashore in Recife to convalesce. Undermanned and unable to fight his ship effectively, Jack makes for Cape Town where he hopes to be able to recruit more sailors, but encountering a larger Dutch ship in the South Atlantic he is forced to change course and flee far south of the Cape to try to outrun her. The chase through the stormy Southern Ocean is a wonderfully atmospheric piece of writing, as is the Leopard's subsequent desperate limping journey to make landfall at Kerguelen Island (the 'Desolation Island' of the title), while after The Mauritius Command's focus on plot the emphasis is firmly back on character. If I had one gripe, it would be that the mention of Australia as a destination had made me hope to see Stephen encountering a wombatt, but even wombatt-free it's a terrific read.