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I'm interested in the Regency period of British history (roughly 1800-1829), so-called because the King went mad and the Prince of Wales was Regent for a time. This book set during the Napoleonic Wars caught my eye are the library book store a few weeks ago and I took it to NY with me. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy it, since I had tried to read one of CS Forester's Horatio Hornblower books and not been able to. This is apparently chronologically the first in a series of books about two men in the British navy, Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship's doctor, Stephen Maturin. I'm not sure what the order of publication was. The subject matter and the archaic language (the book was written in the 1970's but O'Brian adopts a contemporary prose style) were daunting - confusing naval terms were scattered liberaly through the text. Captain Aubrey is new to his position, and Maturin is new to sailing, and O'Brian uses their experiences to gracefully introduce the reader to the customs and terminology of the Navy. O'Brian's prose is tough stuff, and will remind readers of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings saga as well as Dickens and Jane Austen. If you're looking for an easy read, this is not it. But it is exciting, quality stuff. The characters are well-drawn and likeable; their conflicts and faults believeable.

-mapletree
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As far as I'm concerned Patrick O'Brian is God.

Read every single one of the series, read some more than once (which I very rarely do). I even read the cookbook that was published explaining what "spotted dog" and all that other weird stuff they ate is.

It was a sad day when he passed away.
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By the way, I had you p-boxed until just now 'cause you flamed me for a poll on Great Movies. Why'd ya do it, Gator? <sob>

-mapletree
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Cause I'm pretty much a jerk.

Sorry.
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OK, I forgive you. :-)
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Well.

There is a huge, thriving internet discussion community dedicated to O'Brian and his books:
http://www.io.com/gibbonsb/pob/
http://mat.gsia.cmu.edu/POB/
One of the more pleasant communities you'll find on the net: an eclectic, knowledgeable, friendly set of people. They're also pretty good about labelling spoilers as spoilers; and their discussions are pretty wide-ranging (that is, not confined to the books). For a while I was a contributor, but I drifted off after O'Brian passed away two years ago. Recently I've been re-reading some of the books....


This is apparently chronologically the first in a series of books about two men in the British navy, Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship's doctor, Stephen Maturin. I'm not sure what the order of publication was.

Yes. The series went 20 volumes. M&C was written first, in 1970. There were no plans for a series: but the book was well-received, and O'Brian enjoyed writing it, so he followed it up with a sequel in 1972. And another in 1973, and he was off and running. Late in his life he mentioned that he intended the series to end at the 21st volume; he passed away shortly after the 1999 publication of the 20th, Blue At The Mizzen. There are notes toward the 21st volume, but the book itself was not written. Yet really, the series ends well even without a last volume: and the novels themselves are so rich in character and incident, you really don't wish for anything else.

To my mind, the very best of the novels are the second and third: #2 Post Captain and #3 HMS Surprise. I always tell new people who are interested to start with Post Captain: if they like it, go on to HMS Surprise; if they still like it, then go back and read M&C, and continue in the series. M&C has a slightly different tone than the rest of the series, and is a slightly harder read. Great story though: the conflict within Dillon, and between Jack and Dillon, and the way it resolves itself - terrific. By the way, M&C does not have a number on its spine (I guess since it was written without expectation of a series), but all the other books in the series do have a small number indicating what order they go in.

The archaic language is one of the unique points of the series. O'Brian uses the English of the period, so words have slightly different shadings than you expect. It's initially a barrier, yet it becomes engaging as you continue. Somewhat like reading Austen - in fact, O'Brian is often called the male Austen: this is where the male characters in Austen's novels rush off to when they go away from the women. Some of the obscure naval terms remain forever unexplained: I didn't mind this - it just made me identify more with Stephen, to whom the naval stuff always remains a mystery - but other readers might. O'Brian also occasionally advances the narrative thru excerpts from Stephen's diary, or Jack's letters home and/or official dispatches - and interesting narrative change-of-pace. O'Brian does another neat trick with language: several of his characters are multi-lingual, and O'Brian renders their speech in a way that preserves the flavor of their original language. It lingers in the mind, especially the Irish-isms.

The novels vary, some of them being character pieces, some of them naval action pieces, some of them spy stories... the second novel, Post Captain, is all three. As mapletree points out, "the characters are well-drawn and likeable; their conflicts and faults believable." Yes: the characters are the heart of the series. The lead two, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, constitute the richest male friendship in fiction. The supporting characters are memorably and likeably drawn as well (though perhaps the women are less well-realized than the men). And O'Brian is the best I've ever read at describing the impact of whim on conversation and action; how mood changes suddenly.

These are wonderful, wonderful books. One of the few wholly involving fictional worlds that you can just lose yourself in. I've returned to the books over and over during the last 10 years: love them.

Regards,

Jim
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