Captain Jack Aubrey sets sail for the South China Sea with a new lease on life. Following his dismissal from the Royal Navy on a false accusation, he has earned reinstatement through his daring exploits as a privateer. Now he is to shepherd Stephen Maturin--his friend, ship's surgeon, and sometimes intelligence agent--on a diplomatic mission to prevent links between Bonaparte and the Malay princes. The journey of the Diane encompasses a satisfying diversity of adventures. Maturin climbs the Thousand Steps of the sacred crater of the orangutans; a killer typhoon catches Aubrey and his crew trying to work the Diane off a reef; and in the barbaric court of Pulo Prabang, a classic duel of intelligence agents unfolds, with the French envoys, well entrenched in the sultan's good graces, against the savage cunning of Stephen Maturin.