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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Master and Commander (book) » User review

Amazingly detailed and realistic

  • Sep 28, 2002
  • by
Rating:
+3
I first saw mention of this faux historical series by Patrick O'Brian in the Common Reader catalog. Faux historical? I guess that's what to call it. O'Brian is historically realistic while using entirely fictional main characters, who may meet and interact with real historical figures. This is different from novels such as Robert Graves' I, Claudius or the Alexander novels of Mary Renault. While O'Brian's characters may not have the basis that Graves' or Renault's do, I wonder if he perhaps is the more realistic. This may be because O'Brian has much more historical documentation to work with. We simply know much more about the period of sailing ships and kings than we do about triremes and emperors. Graves' Claudius, although a reed in the wind of Roman politics, is still a very heroic figure; O'Brian's Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, although heroic, seem much more like real people. This is the opening book in the series (the sixteenth, The Wine-Dark Sea, just came out in hardcover) and sets the characters and stage. The title refers to Jack Aubrey, who is named Master and Commander (a step below Captain, yet in charge of a single ship) of the sloop Sophie as the story opens. Aubrey has a few character flaws, including being hot-headed and slightly indiscrete, and this has made for him a few enemies. The other main character is Stephen Maturin, who becomes the Sophie's ship surgeon, even though he is over-qualified for the job (as he is an actual doctor, and most ship surgeons of the time weren't). He shares with Aubrey some basic characteristics--a sense of honor, a love of fine food and music, and a real need for money. Maturin also has a past that, like Aubrey's, contributes a few enemies as well. But the character stuff, as good as it is and necessary to make this book work, is just icing on the cake. The fun here, and what got me interested in it when it recently became a topic of discussion on rec.arts.books, is the sea. The description of life aboard and off ship, in a land filled with merchantmen and warships, where loyalty to country is primary, but taking a heavy prize can make your name, the strategy of sea battles and the lonliness of like aboard ship. I've always been a sucker for pirate stories, and this is just the more honor-filled side. Needless to say, I expect I'll be reading the next fifteen books in the series and looking forward to O'Brian writing even more (I wrote this originally back in 1993; O'Brian wrote four more in this series before his death).

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More Master and Commander (book) reviews
review by . October 14, 2008
Surprisingly adult sea story--at least based on my expectation that it was going to be geared to young boys--that is the first of a long series and was the basis for a major Hollywood production in 2003. Captain Jack Aubrey is a warts-and-all hero who is heroic not in spite of but because of his quirks. Ship's Surgeon Stephen Maturin is his land-hugging friend and confidante who goes to sea to eat (he's unemployed and broke) and proves a fun foil for Aubrey and crew with his incredible naivete about …
review by . October 07, 2010
Master and Commander is a very good book, but it starts off a series that's a masterpiece. That's what every reader or rather reader/audio book listener, should keep in mind when beginning this very long series.      In Master and Commander we are introduced to two unforgettable characters, the charismatic, talented and sometimes hopelessly naieve Captain Jack Aubery, and his brilliant, kind and loyal friend, Stephen Maturin who is a spy for Great Britain, a surgeon for …
review by . February 20, 2007
C. S. Forester, Beat to Quarters.  Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander  I've begun reading C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels for the fourth or fifth time and I'm enjoying them almost as much as the first time through. Last year, I read about half of Patrick O'Brian's stunning Aubrey-Maturin sea novels for a second time: they didn't lose a thing in the rereading, they're so good. Both authors knew their subject matter thoroughly -naval battle in the age of sail, the …
review by . February 20, 2007
C. S. Forester, Beat to Quarters.  Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander  I've begun reading C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels for the fourth or fifth time and I'm enjoying them almost as much as the first time through. Last year, I read about half of Patrick O'Brian's stunning Aubrey-Maturin sea novels for a second time: they didn't lose a thing in the rereading, they're so good. Both authors knew their subject matter thoroughly -naval battle in the age of sail, the …
review by . October 07, 2006
Oh my. Over two hundred reviews and not one obviously done by a person of the female persuasion. What gives? You would think this wasn't chic-lit. Okay, so maybe it isn't a book about traveling jeans and romance, but this is the beginning of a great series that has been described rather well by august reviewers much lower down in the ratings than I, so I won't drone on.     What I will note is that if you are a demon for detail there is about as much here as a soul could want. …
review by . July 20, 2006
I like history. I like details. I like a good story and good character developement. This work gave me each of these likes. The book is well written and just as importantly, well researched. The naval terms of the seventeen and eighteen hundreds can be rather daunting, but as the work progressed, and I bothered to actually research some of them, I found this novel to be a wealth of information. Those who are looking for a "bang, bang, shoot-em-up, fifty killings per page" should probably look elsewhere. …
review by . April 29, 2001
Fascinated by the hoopla surrounding Mr. O'Brian's wildly successful series and being a lover of historical fiction myself, I was drawn to this one. I first picked up and tried THE WINE DARK SEA, which is much later in the series. But I was a little put off by its very dry style and slow-moving pace. Still, I figured that with all the excitement about these books there must be more to them than I found in WINE. So I tried this one, MASTER AND COMMANDER, which is the first in the series and the beckoning …
About the reviewer
Glen Engel-Cox ()
Ranked #333
Glen is a forty-something communications professional living near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He grew up in Texas and has also lived inLos Angeles, Colorado, Washington State, and Washington, DC. Glen also … more
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Wiki

Since Patrick O'Brian launched his series of historical novels with Master and Commander in 1970, millions of readers have enjoyed the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin. O'Brian's prose, so immediate and yet so distinctly capturing the language and culture of the English navy in the first moments of the 19th century, rolls effortlessly off the tongue of actor Robert Hardy. Never for a second do we doubt that this is the way an English naval officer would have expressed himself in 1800, and that these are the sights, sounds, and emotions he encountered.
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Tags

Books, Historical Fiction, Patrick Obrian

Details

ISBN-10: 0393307050
ISBN-13: 978-0393307054
Author: Patrick O'Brian
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
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