Leaving Sydney after the events of The Nutmeg of Consolation, Aubrey and Maturin sail for Moahu, a fictional British island near Hawaii. Jack Aubrey is out of sorts for various reasons; most notably a young female convict, Clarissa Harvill, has been smuggled aboard by Midshipman Oakes. Like many sailors, he is superstitious about women on board his ship. Not without reason: even after her shipboard marriage to Oakes, men vie for her attention and factions form aboard the ship.
Few battles in this one. Most of the conflict arises from individuals.