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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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