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I am occasionally criticized for focusing my readings (and writings) too narrowly, and not posting enough reviews of adult novels. Well, heres an adult novel for you, definitely. There is so much historical research behind these books, they should be required reading for history majors. Like a veritable Sybill Trelawney, OBrian channels the style of speaking, the political situation, the social attitudes, and the intricate details of ship-to-ship warfare in the British Navy of the wee years of the 19th century. He even makes you feel like listening to music by composers rarely heard today (such as Corelli, Hummel, and especially Boccerini). If someone printed a set of CDs called Music from the Aubrey-Maturin novels I would buy it before you could say Beat to quarters!
Besides that, there are complex characters colliding in exciting but very adult ways, and while the books have plenty of action that is not for the faint at heart, at the same time there are lingering expanses of philosophical reflection and character-centered storytelling. And most grown-up of all, a full set of the current trade paperback edition would cost about $280.00 American, if you bought them new. Of course, thats twenty books worth…but that, too, requires an adult-sized investment, both of time and of concentration.
Nevertheless, I think the part of me that is hooked on OBrians brilliant naval novels is the same part of me that loves to read fantasy and childrens storiesthe young at heart part, the part that looks for a book not to complicate my life further, but to take me to a world I can only dream of. And after reading three of them, I can tell you quite honestly that I *do* dream of themin vivid, full-color detail.
This third book in the series carries forward the complicated, Romantic mess which started in Post Captain. Captain Jack Aubrey is still on the run from his creditorseven the capture of a ship full of Spanish gold at the end of his previous command does not enable him to claim the hand of his devoted Sophia. While her younger sisters marry themselves off, and other suiters pester her, and her mother persecutes her for her devotion to the financially strapped Goldilocks, it seems to be a matter of time before Sophie knuckles under and marries the handsome vicar instead. Meanwhile, the same ignorant twit of a First Lord of the Admiralty who cheated Aubrey out of his prize money, has also compromised the cover of Jacks best friend: physician, ships surgeon, musician, naturalist, and daring intelligence agent Stephen Maturin.
The excitement begins when Jack sails his temporary command, the H.M.S. Lively, to the Spanish-held island of Minorca to rendezvous with Stephen. It turns out that the rumor of Stephens covert activity has reached the ears of the French, and the poor Doctor has been arrested and tortured. The Livelies bust Stephen out, but he is still recovering from his ordeal months later on board Jacks new command, the frigateSurprise, bound for the sweltering ports of India and almost certain heartbreak. For Stephen knows that the woman he loves, but who is the mistress of another man, will be in Bombay to meet him…and naval intelligence is concerned that she may be a spy!
Throw in a couple of stomach-twisting storms at sea, a deadly squall that roars out of nowhere during a dead calm, an engagement between a convoy of British merchant ships and a convoy of French ships, and a fatal duel that results in the amazing Dr. Maturin having to operate *on himself*…OK, Im back from being sick. What was I saying? Yes, all that and tensions between men in a sailing ship, tensions between men and women on land, tensions between seamen and landsmen, tensions between the Royal Navy and the merchant marine…whew! And you thought historical novels were supposed to be boring! And magical? You want magical? If Jack Aubrey isnt some kind of genius wizard, I dont know how he pulls off some of the tricks he does!
I want to very firmly encourage all you youngsters, and not-so-youngsters, to experience a world that has mostly gone by the board (to borrow a sailing term). Do, do, do give these books, and/or C. S. Forresters Hornblower books, a try! And if you can hack it, I advise you to experience sailing on the real ocean at least once. Its a lot more work than flying a broomstick (if you can make the broomstick go), but it really is as close to the feeling of flying as a Muggle can get, without foolishly jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Bon voyage!