Master and Commander begins English author Patrick O'Brian's lush and literary epic seafaring historical fiction series based on the career of a naval...moreMaster and Commander begins English author Patrick O'Brian's lush and literary epic seafaring historical fiction series based on the career of a naval captain during the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
Through out the entire series O'Brian delves into the themes of love, war and friendship. At the heart of M&C is the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey and Irish surgeon and naturalistic Stephen Maturin. When they meet at the book's outset - Aubrey a lieutenant without a ship, Maturin a doctor without a penny - they nearly kill one another, but fortune forgives all and these two entirely opposite individuals are brought together into an unlikely but mutually beneficial friendship, one that at times tests boundaries, but also one that warms the reader's heart.
To fully enjoy these books you must cast your mind into that period, the very dawn on the 19th century, the Age of Sail, the Age of Enlightenment and Reason. As much of the story plays out upon ships serving the Royal Navy, English customs and manners are the rules of the game. Serving under the Englishman Aubrey and being Irish, Maturin and a fellow countryman bridle at this, but follow suit and guardedly hide their pasts to preserve their own skins.
At the beginning of the series Aubrey is the focal point. O'Brian fashioned him after real-life naval hero Admiral Thomas Cochrane. Brash, daring but not reckless, Cochrane made the perfect image from which to mould fictional heroes. Among other writers, C.S. Forester used Cochrane to create his much beloved Horatio Hornblower character. Though an admiral by the end of his career, Cochrane was not as widely known to the world outside of England after his own time (there's only so much room for the Nelsons and Wellingtons of the world), so his career could be mined for material, even mirrored in many cases, without the general reading public catching on a century or two later.
At first I hesitated to read O'Brian's work. I'd just read Forester's Hornblower series and I felt like O'Brian was merely treading upon his coattails. But Forester's work had left me wanting more and I'd also recently seen Peter Weir's movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," which I enjoyed, so while perusing books at a shop one day and coming across M&C I flipped it open and read a couple paragraphs. I was hooked. The writing flowed with an ease, brilliance and heart that Forester's more stoic prose lacked. O'Brian is called the Jane Austen of his time and genre. Perhaps that is off-putting for some, but for me it equates literary excellence. It means exercising the English language and thrusting your pen into purpose-driven plotting.
Some will find the in-depth descriptions of ships and ship life laborious. I can't totally disagree. In fact M&C's publishers were hesitant to green light the book for that very reason. Here's a suggestion: muscle through those bits. Don't worry if you don't know the difference between bow and stern, port and starboard, or the maintop and the bilge. Stephen Maturin is used as the landsman foil through which much naval jargon may be learned and if you remain as ignorant as he does, you'll be fine. But on the other hand, if you like sailing, the navy, and attention to detail...my friend, you've struck gold!
Synopsis: Reading about old naval battles may not be everyone's cup of tea. Thankfully O'Brian goes well beyond other writers of the genre, such as C.S. Forester's more limited scope by delving deep into the minds of his main characters. The full range of human behavior and the resulting affects it has on their actions is entwined so beautifully with O'Brian's full descriptive prose, touching on all the senses. Those with short attention spans demanding constant action maybe too impatient to read through these elegantly and intricately designed scenes with their highly tuned subtlety and nuance. But most will probably find that the author has struck a marvelous balance between literary high-mindedness and high-seas adventure.
Rating: I am tempted to give this five stars, and if it weren't for the too-lengthy and minute descriptions of naval matters, I probably would.
The Movie: Movies based on books are what they are: condensed versions that are not always representative of the original. Sourced from two books (and maybe more), while entirely leaving out a storyline integral to the book series, Weir's directorial effort represents M&C fairly well in its bursts of action between languid pauses to breathe in real life and the horrors/wonders of the world.
Dancing bears and loons that fancy themselves teapots? No, number two in the series is not a typical Aubrey/Maturin adventure, yet it is perhaps bette...more Dancing bears and loons that fancy themselves teapots? No, number two in the series is not a typical Aubrey/Maturin adventure, yet it is perhaps better than the first!
While book one, Master & Commander, was about war and friendship, the second book, Post Captain enters the love arena, and friendship is put to the test. Of course war is not forgotten, this is a historical fiction series set during the Napoleonic Wars after all. The career of our hero Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy intertwines with his unlikely friend's, an Irish/Catalan surgeon, natural philosopher and (view spoiler)[spy (hide spoiler)] named Stephen Maturin. In this volume, containing one of the most ludicrous episodes in their adventures, the two must navigate the dangerous waters of the Peace of Amiens, which ceases hostilities for all of Europe...just not for Aubrey and Maturin.
If you survived book one's interminable explanations of naval terminology and are willing to give Patrick O'Brian a second chance, you'll be rewarded by the second book's smoother, more balanced plotting. The man's writing is worth your effort (and patience if you're not into the subject matter). He's been called the Jane Austen of his genre and that complimentary comparison is no more apparent than in Post Captain. With the Peace, Aubrey and Maturin find themselves back on land and prey to debt collectors and a predatory woman trying to find suitable victims husbands for her very Bennet-esque family of all marriage-aged young women. A love triangle ensues that would be at home in any of Austen's Something and Something novels.
Woman do not play a huge role in the series, but a much larger one than might be assumed in books about naval warfare. Often they are in the background, off-stage if you will, influencing the actions of the principle characters, but when women do take the stage, they know their lines. O'Brian fleshes them out well, imbuing them with spines and brains, or a lack thereof when appropriate. They come alive and stand as well-rounded as the men.
If you've migrated to this series for its entertaining action, sea battles, technically correct descriptions of sailing, worry not! Some of the subject matter (even Aubrey's ship itself!) is a touch unorthodox, but there's still enough of what you came for and I doubt you'll be disappointed in continuing on with this very satisfying series.
My favorite of the first three novels and perhaps of the entire series! HMS Surprise deftly combines the best aspects of the first two books. Love, fr...moreMy favorite of the first three novels and perhaps of the entire series! HMS Surprise deftly combines the best aspects of the first two books. Love, friendship and war. Frankly, there's so much going on it's hard to believe O'Brian fits it all in comfortably!
The amazing thing about this book is how it takes you on a ride around the world, touching base in England, the Mediterranean, Africa, South America, India and the South Pacific islands. All of this lush scenery is a joy to behold in O'Brian's capable hands. So much of it describes the natural world that reading HMS Surprise is often like watching an episode of Plant Earth.
This epic series set during the Napoleonic Wars, ostensibly written with Captain Jack Aubrey as the solo heroic figure, can no longer pretend to be anything but a duet. Aubrey's friend, sometimes surgeon and sometimes (view spoiler)[spy (hide spoiler)], Stephen Maturin really comes into his own in HMS Surprise, which includes one of the saddest, most touching scenes, not to mention others both harrowing and heroic. Torture and duels, written with a touch of Impressionism that needs your attention, thrust and parry through out the book in a way that makes you wonder if O'Brian wrote it just to see how much one man can plausibly endure.
O'Brian is knocked on for providing too much information about naval matters, but here he puts it to poignant use. Around page 50 Aubrey is writing to his beloved Sophie back home. Much of what we know today about life at sea and warfare during this period (early 1800s) is what's made available to us through just such letters. They are often vague, elusive or downright bland when it comes to the description of battles. Certainly they could've described the gore and extreme peril the sailors put themselves in, but why worry and expose loved ones to the horrors they might otherwise remain blissfully unaware of? Aubrey pauses in the midst of his chatty letter and reflects upon one of his recent and particularly violent battles - oddly inhuman in it's unusually calm, calculated butchery. Forcing our eyes open Clockwork Orange-style , O'Brian shows a scene few have or should see, and then has Aubrey continue on with his letter, dashing off a colorless, dispassionate summary line about the fight that his loved one might readied swallow none the wiser. So you get the scene and the subterfuge all in one brilliant bit of real life in a fiction full of truths.
My love for these books seems boundless, almost paternal...so I feel harsh giving any of them anything but a 5 star rating and a kiss on the papery ch...moreMy love for these books seems boundless, almost paternal...so I feel harsh giving any of them anything but a 5 star rating and a kiss on the papery cheek. I'm trying to be objective, to take off my rose-colored glasses and view the work through someone else's eyes, someone who's not a hardcore fanboy, but goodness gracious, it's difficult.
Giving it the old college try, let me begin with the negative then...
The Mauritius Command does not hold the passion of the first three books in Patrick O'Brian 20 volume seafaring series set during the Napoleonic Wars. Love and its numerous forms, many of which appear in O'Brian's writing, is not a theme as strongly attended to as it was in the previous books. Sure, trace whiffs of it linger about in the form of our hero Captain Jack Aubrey's longing for his wife so many thousands of miles away, but love is not a motivating factor as much here. Fear of failure, not living up to the "manly" expectations of the day, and the burden of command, these are driving forces that move the characters through this well-crafted tale.
Certainly Jack and his ship's surgeon/intelligence agent friend Stephen Maturin are still solidly ensconced as our main characters, remaining as the heart and soul through out the series, however minor characters and their needs take hold of the narrative with just as firm a grip. Jack's need to succeed in his first chance to lead a squadron of ships is severely tested by his ability to handle personalities. These are not just chess pieces to be moved about and sacrificed with utter disregard. These are people, some quite prickly, and the somewhat ham-fisted Captain Aubrey must get the most out of them with a kind of delicacy that does not come naturally.
This is fiction, but fiction based to such an extreme degree upon actual occurrences that one could almost call it a non-fiction. For me, that's fantastic, because I'm "truth is stranger than fiction" kind of person. However, following the facts too closely can have an ill effect upon historical fiction, especially if it takes the wind of the sails of a ripping good yarn. Be warned, there's a touch of that within The Mauritius Command.
Regardless, this is another brilliant piece in O'Brian's masterful puzzle. As ever, his writing is superb, his characterization flawless, the flashes of action and adventure are fun and exciting. Setting descriptions of places the author has never seen are breathtaking. When I read these books I feel as if I've stepped into these exotic locations with Jack and Stephen, who have become so real to me as to be thought of as old friends.
How much do I love these books? Let me count the ways...so far, we're up to six. Six splendiferous volumes of early 19th century seafaring goodness!
B...moreHow much do I love these books? Let me count the ways...so far, we're up to six. Six splendiferous volumes of early 19th century seafaring goodness!
By the sixth of this series of twenty, I was fully enamored of the characters, the story, the writing - the whole kit and kaboodle! This is my third or fourth time through them, and although I've become more critical in my appraisal of O'Brian's work, it still stands up as some of my favorite writing of all time. Granted, to be sympatico as book besties, you too would need to be down with the Austen-esque style, the Napoleonic War setting, as well as the sailing, naval warfare and spying subject matter. If none of those things interest you, I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't like O'Brian's Master & Commander series. For those who are still with me, let's continue on, shall we?
The Fortune of War admittedly does not kick off to a fast paced start. It languishes for much of the beginning and some in the middle. While helpful for those who are reading these books out of order, an explanation of the preceding book's action does slow things down. The middle is slow for reasons I don't want to spoil and also because O'Brian is setting things up for his big finish, and it's well worth it!
This book contains two lengthy sea battles that make up for the last book's lack of action. Hey, just like fights during NHL games, that's what some of the people come for. Just as exciting, in my opinion, is the second protagonist, Stephen Maturin's secret profession as an intelligence agent, which gets just as much play in this one as the naval aspect. In fact, because of Maturin's clandestine work the later part of the book flies with heart pounding intensity.
The Fortune of War is also intriguing because up to this point in the series it's been all about the British and their fight against the French. Now the British are fighting America, and things get a little weird for American readers, considering that up until now we've been rooting for our British/Irish heroes. This tricky business I think is handled with delicacy. The good and bad of both sides are shown, and yes, there's plenty of nuanced grey area too. On a personal level, I really enjoyed the setting for the later half of the book, having grown up in Massachusetts and spent a good amount of time in Boston, the principle location for much of the story.
This is my third time reading Treason's Harbor and yet...
While O'Brian is one of my favorite authors, this is not one of my favorite books of his. It'...moreThis is my third time reading Treason's Harbor and yet...
While O'Brian is one of my favorite authors, this is not one of my favorite books of his. It's unbalanced, lacking the physical action of the other books in the Aubrey/Maturin series. More time is devoted to matters of intelligence and spying, and even that lacks some of its usual excitement.
However, it has its redeeming qualities. There is, as always, beauty in the language. Reading any books of the series just for the descriptions alone is worth the effort. It's like listening to David Attenborough narrate a gorgeous episode of Planet Earth, taking you to new lands and wowing you with the sights and sounds. The characters, whom you've probably come to know and love if you've reached this ninth book, are full of life and fully invested in their own lives, the very minutia of which is the book's bread and butter.
This seafaring series set in the Napoleonic Wars is epic in just about every way, and so it can hardly be faulted for the occasional lag in full-throttle action. Instead, just sit back, relax and let the words flow over you.
Political intrigue in the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars as seen through the eyes of a Royal Navy captain. The Ionian Mission is yet another...morePolitical intrigue in the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars as seen through the eyes of a Royal Navy captain. The Ionian Mission is yet another strong showing in the long Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.
I absolutely love this stuff! Here we find Captain Jack Aubrey struggling to use his wits for once, instead of his might and skill at naval warfare, to unravel a tricky situation amongst three minor rulers in the eastern Mediterranean. Will he or won't he choose wisely, side with the right one and back him, thus creating a strong ally in the region for the British? Choosing incorrectly could be disastrous...hell, choosing correctly could end up worse for him and his crew!(less)
Read the Goodreads summary for this book. Go on, I can wait...... Sounds pretty salacious, doesn't it? There's a"rescue" of a prominent historical fig...moreRead the Goodreads summary for this book. Go on, I can wait...... Sounds pretty salacious, doesn't it? There's a"rescue" of a prominent historical figure, the threat of a "treacherous disease," and a James Bond-esque "beautiful and dangerous spy." Wow, talk about Hollywooding it up to titillate and entice a wider audience! That kind of nonsense cheapens O'Brian's writing, reducing it down to a potboiler, a drugstore dime novel and this is none of that.
Desolation Island and all of the Aubrey/Maturin series reads more like something from the early Victorian era. It is more literary-minded with strong character development and a carefully crafted prose, nuanced to the point that a careless reading will miss important plot points. I'm not saying there's no treachery or danger. There's plenty of that. It's just not going to hit you over the head.
At the start, an admittedly slow start, Captain Jack Aubrey is stuck on land dabbling in speculations he does not understand. His good friend, Irish surgeon and intelligence agent, Stephen Maturin is chasing unrequited love as longstanding suffering heart shrivels in the hands of a woman seemingly incapable of returning his deep affections. Both need to have their time and minds occupied elsewhere. Transporting criminals is not particularly glorious, but it must serve the purpose. Real history plays some in every book of the series, but seldom is it ever as popularly well-known. Aubrey is enlisted to bring these criminals to Australia for the dual purpose of assisting Governor Bligh of the colonies there. Yes, the same Bligh from Bounty fame. Before setting off Aubrey meets with the real life Peter Heywood, who as a young man was aboard HMS Bounty at the time of the mutiny and who was later captured and sentenced to death. Amazingly, Heywood avoided the gallows and later rose to become a naval captain. Also, the ship Aubrey is to command on this voyage is the Leopard, infamously known in America for having shot broadsides into the USS Chesapeake and pressed men from her during a time when the two nations were at peace. This plays a hand later in O'Brian's story.
History is all fine and good you're probably saying, but what about this beautiful and dangerous spy? Well, yes there is an attractive female spy aboard. She is one of the prisoners being transported. However, she is far more well-developed - I'm speaking of her character - than that simple description. She is a player and a pawn, the focal point of admiration and a political intrigue that unfolds aboard ship as it passes halfway around the world, traversing various climates, undergoing the trials sailors faced in the age of sail, though perhaps pushed to extremes now and then....this is a fictional drama after all!
Out of all of O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series up to this point, The Thirtheen-Gun Salute gets further away from the sea battles and life aboard ship t...moreOut of all of O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series up to this point, The Thirtheen-Gun Salute gets further away from the sea battles and life aboard ship to really delve into the interior of a new and exciting frontier (in the eyes of the characters as set in a pre-"Planet Earth" world) and paints a not-always-pretty picture of diplomacy in the Far East as it was some 200 years ago. O'Brian describes Maturin's jungle romp in such flowing and absorbing detail that it reads as vividly as watching any of those fancy nature programs David Attenborough makes. (less)
Hands down my favorite Dickens' I've read yet! It's got love, sacrifice, revenge, revolt and other exciting verbs! I'm a big fan of a solid marriage b...moreHands down my favorite Dickens' I've read yet! It's got love, sacrifice, revenge, revolt and other exciting verbs! I'm a big fan of a solid marriage between character development and action. A Tale of Two Cities is well-wed. Some criticize Dickens for his trite stories and overblown caricature-esque characters. Yes, the man wrote some less-than-perfect books. He wrote them for a wide-ranging public and he wrote for money. High-minded prose eloquently crafted may garner praise, but it doesn't always pay the bills. But here you get the author at his finest, plotting a riveting tale and creating sympathetic characters with empathy up the wazoo. The great descriptions of the rebellion are interesting, but it's the dual nature of the revolutionaries that I really love. Dickens makes you feel for their plight and then twists it around, so that the tortured become the tyrants and your fondness turns to loathing as you witness their despicable deeds. "Feel" is the operative word there. Dickens put a lot of feeling into A Tale of Two Cities.
"REINVIGORATE, MAN!" I shouted, then calmly began my review.
Cornwell always does a decent job of adding in just enough historical detail, both physic...more"REINVIGORATE, MAN!" I shouted, then calmly began my review.
Cornwell always does a decent job of adding in just enough historical detail, both physical and immediate, to the story as well as historic and atmospheric for the background. Then he layers on his stock, misunderstood hero regardless of time or place and serves up another entertaining action/adventure story. Hard to argue with a winning recipe, other than the argument that the palette desires something new sooner or later, and that the chef needs to stretch himself occasionally to reinvigorate his passion. (less)
Cornwell puts his talents to good use, crafting an exciting, action packed historical fiction based on his rough and tumble Richard Sharpe character,...moreCornwell puts his talents to good use, crafting an exciting, action packed historical fiction based on his rough and tumble Richard Sharpe character, fighting his way through the ranks as he battles Napoleon's forces. Very heroic stuff. Sure it's over the top macho at times, but it's a rollicking good tale nonetheless.(less)
Forester "began" his series after he'd already brought the narrative to completion by creating a series of prequels yea...moreWhat a fun rollick with seamen!
Forester "began" his series after he'd already brought the narrative to completion by creating a series of prequels years after writing the first books, sort of like what goddamned George Lucas did with Star Wars. However, in this case the creator's craft had improved. The writing in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower has a better flow to it, so it's funny to get into the middle of the entire series to the previously written books and see the work get stiff and lose that effortless ease. Regardless, the series is still one of my favorites and this is a great send off to a wonderful voyage!(less)