As I read this book, i had to keep reminding myself that O'brian didn't know it was going to be the second to last volume. He'd been writing about these characters for literally decades; no wonder he wanted to change things up. Had he known that he would only finish one more book on these characters, perhaps he would have made different choices. That is the part of me that understands creative people talking there. The fan part of me just wanted to keep yelling "NO NO NO NO!!". When a big character dies, it is important. When a big character dies "offscreen", between books in this case, you kind of feel cheated.
Aubrey and Maturin are still alive, of course. The sea action is great; the story takes place during the time Napoleon has escaped from Elba so there are French allies, like Christy Palliere, who we met waaaaay back in book 2 or 3. it is certainly not a bad book. it just wasn't quite what i wanted to read. a 4.