Do you know your topsail from your mainsail?
Do you find descriptions of sea battles exciting and easy to understand?
I would answer NO to all three of those questions, so you may be wondering why I am continuing to read Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. The answer is that while, yes, most of the action takes place at sea and there are certainly a lot of nautical terms and quite a few sea battles, the series has so much more to offer than that. So let me ask three more questions.
Do you love novels with strong, complex, nuanced characters?
Do you like to be swept away to fascinating and exotic locations?
When you read historical fiction, do you like the setting to feel accurate and the language authentic?
Now you see why I’m happy to struggle through the naval terminology and the occasional engagement between enemy ships; HMS Surprise has all of the qualities I’ve just mentioned above and more. There’s adventure (including a dramatic rescue scene, a duel and a storm), a long voyage during which we visit Brazil, India and Madeira, romantic rivalries, witty dialogue and humour – where else would you find a line like “Jack, you have debauched my sloth!” – and descriptions of life aboard a navy frigate that are so interesting and detailed even a landlubber like me can appreciate them.
This is the third book in the series and although it is my favourite so far, I would recommend reading both Master and Commander and Post Captain first. I think it’s important to start at the beginning so that you can watch the friendship develop between Royal Navy captain Jack Aubrey and physician, naturalist and spy Stephen Maturin and so you know the background to their relationships with other characters, particularly the two women in their lives, Sophie Williams and Diana Villiers. I’m definitely finding the books more and more enjoyable now that I’m familiar with the characters and with Patrick O’Brian’s writing style.
I realise I haven’t said very much about the plot of this particular instalment, but I’m not sure that it’s really necessary. It’s probably enough to know that Jack, whose marriage plans have been put on hold as he’s in debt again, has been given the job of escorting a British ambassador to the East Indies, while Stephen, who is accompanying him, has learned that the woman he loves is in India and is determined to see her – even if it means he risks having his heart broken. To go into any further detail would mean giving too much of the story away (I always find it difficult to know how much to say about books that are part of a series) so I’ll leave it there.
The Mauritius Command will be next for me and this time I’ll try not to leave such a long gap between books. I was shocked when I discovered that it was August 2013 when I read Post Captain! Meanwhile I’m reading Temeraire by Naomi Novik, which I’ve seen described as Patrick O’Brian with dragons and which I’m counting as my first book for the Forgotten Histories Reading Challenge.