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I've now read three of Patrick O'Brian's twenty (completed) novels featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. For those who may not be aware of it, this is the series of novels used as the basis for the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The most important aspect of these novels is the wonderfully described setting: British naval ships during the early 19th century. O'Brian (POB to his myriads of fans) had a wonderful talent for putting the reader right there on the quarterdeck. He must have done extensive research into the times: conduct, food, shipbuilding, sailing, geography, linguistics, et cetera. His detailed descriptions of the most minute sailing tasks alone testifies to his knowledge. I was even able to find a quote from O'Brian (but I can't remember where) which said that he read very little contemporary literature and that he mostly focused his time and energy building up his knowledge of his chosen setting. In this regard, O'Brian seems similar to Alan Furst with his World War Two novels. I also enjoyed the very distinct and surprisingly opposite personalities of both Aubrey and Maturin--surprising considering they're such good friends. While none of the novels go any great depth into characterization, there are still enough personalities, feelings, and opinions to add to the story. It would have been a huge benefit if O'Brian could have fleshed them out a bit more, but they are at least satisfactory. In addition to characterization, I would also add plot and language to the weaknesses of these novels. If you take away the setting, either the historical setting or the naval setting, O'Brian founders. This is apparent in Post Captain, the second in the series, where Aubrey and Maturin rent a house in the countryside and engage with society. Ironically, O'Brian has Jack Aubrey say: [sarcasm]Who'd've thunk O'Brian could be so postmodernist.[/sarcasm] The novels also have a very episodic feel to them. In some cases, the story seems like a collection of small assignments (Post Captian). In others, it seems like an endless series of misadventures, constantly distracting them from their goal and, ultimately, just dragging out the novel (The Far Side of the World). As alluded to earlier, the language also suffers a bit. The dialog is quite good and in keeping with the times, but the narrative is uneven--at least for the earlier books in the series. I noticed a huge change in O'Brian's narrative style when I read The Far Side of the World, the tenth in the series. By that time, he had opted for a simpler, more straight-forward style, in contradiction with the uneven attempt at grand prose found in the first couple. I don't mean to trash these novels. To my way of thinking, the setting more than makes up for the problems regarding characterization, plot, and language, which are still tolerable. I'll probably read one or possibly two a year for that alone. For anyone interested, here are some links that I found useful: http://cannonade.net/aubrey.html - a wonderful list of maps detailing Aubrey's naval journeys. At this time, it's still a work in process, but the first couple of novels are complete. You can even follow each leg of each journey. However, be warned: you may inadvertently read a spoiler if you jump to the next leg before you've read that part of the novel. http://www.sea-room.com/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aubrey-Maturin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rating_system_of_the_Royal_Navy http://www.geocities.com/cjstein_2000/dictionary.html http://thedailynews.com/boats/nauticalterms.htm * EDIT * http://www.hmssurprise.org/ - among other things, it has a link to a good deck plan (http://members.aol.com/batrnq/Surprise/Surprise1.htm) http://www.io.com/gibbonsb/pob/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_rig - a good introduction to the sails