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Desolation Island

(Aubrey & Maturin #5)

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  12,601 ratings  ·  517 reviews
"[O'Brian's] Aubrey-Maturin series, 20 novels of the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars, is a masterpiece. It will outlive most of today's putative literary gems as Sherlock Holmes has outlived Bulwer-Lytton, as Mark Twain has outlived Charles Reade." —David Mamet, New York Times

Commissioned to rescue Governor Bligh of Bounty fame, Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend and sur
Paperback, 350 pages
Published August 17th 1991 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1978)
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Average rating 4.40  · 
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Jason Koivu
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who read the previous book in the series.
Here's Goodreads' sexy summary for this book:

Commissioned to rescue Governor Bligh of Bounty fame, Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend and surgeon Stephen Maturin sail the Leopard to Australia with a hold full of convicts. Among them is a beautiful and dangerous spy—and a treacherous disease that decimates the crew.

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." Wo
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"But I was forgetting -- all is grist to your grisly mill..."
- Patrick O'Brian, Desolation Island


I'm only five books into this series, but I must declare that I love these books like I love ice water on the beach, or hot chocolate with a warm blanket on a Fall night. Rarely do I find a writer that amazes and seduces me with his/her technical skill, prose, poetry, and sense of humanity. I've said the same thing of John le Carré, but I really do feel that when a lot of the bones and books of our
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Oct 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014

After four books in the company of Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin I have come to expect the best entertainment, the best historical and maritime instructions from each of their new voyages. The fifth book is no exception, I would even venture to say it is an improvement over the fourth. Jack Aubrey reached a pinnacle in his career during the Mauritius campaign, commanding the entire expeditionary force and expanding his tactical acumen to a larger playing board, with several ship
Mar 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Felicity by: Ryan Grove
Though a second reading is less uncomfortable than the first (the edge of the seat is so sharp, and bad for circulation!) this is still an exciting, dare I say epic installment of the adventures of Aubrey and Maturin. With few sentences, O'Brian lets us infer a tragic story and a driving hatred that create the climactic chase of the book.

One of my favorite P.O'B. books.

Further thoughts (on the fourth or fifth reading): This book is a classic 'out of the frying pan, into the fire' adventure. Fro
Jul 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorites from the series. It contains what I believe to be arguably the most riveting sea chase in any novel. Captain Aubrey is to take the Leopard, a two deck ship of fifty guns to Botany Bay to come to the aid of William Bligh (yes that William Bligh of the Bounty) who is now Governor of New South Wales and seems to have yet another mutiny on his hands. On route, they are chased by the Waakzaamheid, a Dutch ship of the line (three decks of 74 guns) into the far southern ocea ...more
Peter Tillman
This one started out slow for me, with Aubrey's hopelessly naive belief in every con-man he encounters on the beach -- the silver-mining scheme! Then Maturin's murky intelligence machinations and the unhappy and unwelcome convicts being transported to Botany Bay. I stalled and put it aside, and decided to take up #6 instead, "The Fortune of War," which I liked a lot. So I came back to this one and picked it up again with the long stern-chase of Leopard by the much larger and better-armed Dutch w ...more
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historic-fiction
This was my second Aubrey/Maturin book, and I chose it because this was how the plot description went: "Commissioned to rescue Governor Bligh of Bounty fame, Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend and surgeon Stephen Maturin sail the Leopard to Australia with a hold full of convicts. Among them is a beautiful and dangerous spy - and a treacherous disease that decimates the crew."

Holy shit, look at all that stuff! Mutineers! Sexy lady spies! Plagues! What isn't to like here?

First, a few corrections t
Mar 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For me, Desolation Island is where Aubrey/Maturin settle into a comfortable familiarity with their readers, and the rhythm of these books, their own fine and sonorous strings, takes their ultimate shape.

There is confidence in Patrick O'Brian's writing at this point, and one no longer has any sense that he is worried about whether or not the next book will happen, nor any fear over where his Captain and his Doctor are going to take him. This is purely speculative on my part, of course, but I imag
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sherwood Smith
By the time any reader of O'Brian's roman fleuve has made it this far, they know that the writing, the characterizations, the mix of history and fiction, humor and horror, romance and philosophy are all brilliantly handled, so no need to effuse in detail.

On a fifth and beyond reading, certain patterns emerge: the spy Mrs. Wogan in certain regards seems a trial for another female character who will appear later. At least as interesting is Maturin's troubled internal accounting for his actions in
Timothy Moriarty
Dec 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Excellent, as always. I can't say enough about this series. It requires some work from the reader, or the willingness of the reader to simply not understand some of it. What I mean is, writers of historical fiction have a choice to make: explain every custom, odd phrase, popular dish, law -- anything that the contemporary reader might not know about that period. Doing that, he or she has to slow the action down and explain, explain, explain.

But O'Brian never does that. Never. And we're talking p
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Two things particularly stood out for me in this volume of the Aubrey-Maturin series: O’Brian’s descriptions of the sea, while always vivid and evocative, seemed particularly resonant here, perhaps because they were paired with the second notable element: a tense chase between Aubrey’s new ship, the Leopard, and a much larger and more powerful Dutch ship, the Waakzaamheid, whose captain seems intent on nothing less than the utter destruction of his foe. The wild Antarctic seas on which the chase ...more
Nov 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My annual return to the Aubrey & Maturin nautical adventures & as always the first chapter takes a while for you to adjust to C19th speak, before you become a fair natural & all maketh sense! The series is fairly formulaic in that we always start of ashore (landlubbing that be) & Captain Aubrey is like a man possessed without a ship beneath his feet, driven to distraction....... Dr Maturin will then make an appearance which will involve a sidetale of doctoring or indeed espionage which is his si ...more
Jamie Collins
Five stars for the paper book; three for the Simon Vance audio book reading.

This book begins my favorite of the story arcs in the Aubrey-Maturin series. Jack and Stephen are aboard "the horrible old Leopard ", and there are some absolutely amazing action scenes in this book: the pursuit by the Dutch 74-gun during a storm; the chaos when the sailors abandon the damaged ship to sail away with Grant; the tense effort to bring the ship to Desolation island before she founders.

Then there's the human
A very enjoyable read but not the strongest installment of the series so far.

The story this time around lacks side-plots: It is pretty straight-forward from beginning to end, and I didn't find myself too smitten with the new characters. I had expected the convicts to play a larger role in the book, but, contrary to O'Brian's usual fondness for lavish description and social commentary, they are hardly mentioned and remain pretty inconsequential to the whole story, apart from providing a reason f

I've had this on Mt. TBR for years and now it is the Classic Serial starting Sunday. Bargain!

BBC BLURB: August, 1811. Jack Aubrey sets sail for Australia in his new command, HMS Leopard. His mission - to transport a group of convicts to Botany Bay, including a woman, Louisa Wogan, who has been spying for the Americans. Stephen Maturin joins Jack once again as ship's surgeon - but his real mission is to watch Mrs Wogan. When a fever breaks out among the prisoners and crew, Jack decides to head f
Oct 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebook
(I listened to the unabridged audiobook version, read by Patrick Tull. --10/24/11)

Loved this story, the best of the lot I've read since Post Captain (though every single one is head and shoulders above most historical fiction I've ever read). It was quite different from the previous books, with the "action" being more of the episodic type aboard the HMS Leopard on its trip around the Cape, en route to Australia on a mission. The mission itself is secondary, as things like typhus, female prisoner
From BBC Radio 4 - Classical Serial:
Patrick O'Brian's nautical adventure, dramatised by Roger Danes.

This was one of the best in this series yet. From start to finish I was intrigued, there was so much in this book. Spy games, sea chases, storms, iceberg, diseases and of course the friendship of Jack and Stephen.
Jan 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After *gestures* ALL OF THIS in the last month, I decided I needed a soothing and ultimately optimistic story read to me someone, preferably a British person who does accents. This hit the spot. Stephen gets to be a secret agent in this one and schemes to flip a woman who is being sent to a convict colony in Australia to give the French bad information. (It sounds more complicated than it actually is). It’s worth it to hear him talk about “sea elephants” incessantly. Also a fun chase scene with ...more
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: x2019-20-season
Plenty of action without being overloaded by battles.
Nicholas Whyte

I read the first two Aubrey/Maturin books many many years ago, and while I enjoyed them I never quite got into the habit of pursuing the series. A couple of years back I picked up Desolation Island from Bookmooch (which seems incidentally to have lurched back into activity in the last month or so, which is good news) and have now submitted to various people's urgings in my last couple of what-shall-I-read-next-year posts and digested it.

It is a cracking
Mar 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Michael by: Bill Thomas
Patrick O'Brian hits the story telling mark on this novel- it's absorbing! After several years hiatus from reading the first few novels, the re-patriation to life aboard her Royal Navy's ships is consuming, watching over the shoulders of familiar characters of Aubrey and Maturin. Admittedly, it's not easy digesting dry history and foreign outdated jargon. As a reader coming into these books I knew very little. I had a foggy notion of Admiral Nelson as an historical figure. But foreign ports come ...more
Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-audio, series
It was GREAT! This is the first book in this series that I picked up at the library to listen to. I did not even realize it was part of a whole series until I looked for the title to add to my currently reading shelf.

I had seen the movie - Master and Commander, so I knew who the main characters were - their names at least.

This book was narrated by Simon Vance. I loved it!

I felt like I was right out there on the ocean with the crew. The characters are wonderfully done! The ship is so alive and p
Feb 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: naval-fiction
Just not as good: no action (after the explosive beginning) and the remainder of the book spends too much time in Maturin's maudlin head. ...more
May 30, 2020 rated it liked it
In this installment of the Aubrey-Maturin series, Captain Aubrey is tasked with carrying a load of convicts to New Holland (Australia) and assisting Captain Bligh (yes, that Captain Bligh, of HMS Bounty infamy) with his troubles with the locals there.

Patrick O'Brian is a seal: a most graceful creature in the water. His ability to fully immerse the reader in the early 19th-century British naval experience is unparalleled. He is, hands-down, the greatest historical novelist I've ever read. Seldom
Sid Nuncius
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is now my third time reading through this brilliant series and I am reminded again how beautifully written and how wonderfully, addictively enjoyable they are.

In The Mauritius Command, Jack is finding shore-bound domestic life somewhat less blissful than he had anticipated, but through Steven's machinations is given command of a squadron to fight in the Indian Ocean where French warships are playing havoc with the Company's trade. As always, there is a gripping, varied narrative and some th
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another great entry in the Aubrey/Maturin series.

The narration by Patrick Tull for the audio version was once again excellent.

The story itself was one of the weaker ones in my opinion. It's still great, but it moves a bit slower than the best books of the series and spends a lot of the first half of the book on land, leaving the reader wishing that they would just get on the boat already and get to some high seas action. That being said though, I enjoyed all the new characters, I laughed often a
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, audiobooks
In one of my favorite books in the series (but I could say that about most of them), Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin head off on “the horrible, old Leopard” for Botany Bay, but, of course, the trip does not go smoothly. This reading by Patrick Tull does full justice to the characters and events of the story; as exciting as the chase by a Dutch warship is in print, Mr Tull’s audio version fully brought home the danger, suspense, and terrible ending. Audiobook. Reread.
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
damn the ending - it feels like leaving the expedition halfway through; it was almost anticlimactic after all the anxiousness of the pursuit and other misfortunes haunting the ship.
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Patrick O'Brian's acclaimed Aubrey-Maturin series of historical novels has been described as "a masterpiece" (David Mamet, New York Times), "addictively readable" (Patrick T. Reardon, Chicago Tribune), and "the best historical novels ever written" (Richard Snow, New York Times Book Review), which "should have been on those lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century" (George Will).

Set in the

Other books in the series

Aubrey & Maturin (1 - 10 of 21 books)
  • Master and Commander
  • Post Captain
  • H. M. S. Surprise
  • The Mauritius Command (Aubrey & Maturin #4)
  • The Fortune of War (Aubrey & Maturin #6)
  • The Surgeon's Mate (Aubrey & Maturin #7)
  • The Ionian Mission (Aubrey & Maturin #8)
  • Treason's Harbour (Aubrey & Maturin #9)
  • The Far Side of the World (Aubrey & Maturin #10)
  • The Reverse of the Medal (Aubrey & Maturin #11)

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“To tell the truth, sir, I believe I had rather sit in the shelter for a while. The cabbage seems to have turned my inward parts to water.’
Nonsense,’ said Stephen, ‘it is the most wholesome cabbage I have ever come across in the whole of my career. I hope, Mr. Herapath, that you are not going to join in the silly weak womanish unphilosophical mewling and puling about the cabbage. So it is a little yellow in certain lights, so it is a little sharp, so it smells a little strange: so much the better, say I. At least that will stop the insensate Phaeacian hogs from abusing it, as they abuse the brute creation, stuffing themselves with flesh until what little brain they have is drowned in fat. A virtuous esculent! Even its boldest detractors, ready to make the most hellish declarations and to swear through a nine-inch plank that the cabbage makes them fart and rumble, cannot deny that it cured their purpurae. Let them rumble till the heavens shake and resound again; let them fart fire and brimstone, the Gomorrhans, I will not have a single case of scurvy on my hands, the sea-surgeon’s shame, while there is a cabbage to be culled.”
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