In general I enjoy reading historical fiction. However, since I don’t know very much about early 19th century naval etiquette I found myself feeling quite confused several times while reading this book. As a prerequisite to reading Master and Commander a course on British, French and Spanish naval battles and policies around the year 1800 should be taken. I’m only slightly over exaggerating.
For starters, Patrick O’Brian wrote the book in period appropriate language. The naval terms took a while to learn but O’Brian did a good job of introducing the reader to these nicknames by which the crew referred to them. However, what was very unclear was the story itself. The only character I truly understood was Captain Jack Aubrey. However, the character of Dr. Maturin is quite fuzzy around the edges to me. The summary on the back of the book says he is a secret intelligence agent. Did I skip a chapter? Dr. Maturin, along with a few others aboard the HMS Sophie, were part of an Irish resistance group in the past. They tried to hide that past for the sake of being allowed to serve in the British Navy. This could have been elaborated on and made a great story. I definitely did not pick up on the fact that he was a secret intelligence agent of any sort. The lack of story details and elaboration about anything is my biggest gripe about this book. So O’Brian supposedly writes amazing naval battles? Sure, it is possible with the few pages devoted to each battle that someone could recreate a magnificent battle in their head, but that would take a great deal of imagination.
O’Brian hints that he’s got a story to tell, but falls short on the delivery. I would not recommend this book to anyone unless they are really interested in the subject matter. Do yourselves a favor and just watch the movie.
Master and Commander is just the first in a series about Captain Aubrey, needless to say, I won’t be reading any more of them. And since I already own the second in the series, that says a lot. I rated this book 3/5 stars. I may not think O’Brian is a good story-teller, but he obviously knows how to write. I was also impressed with the period specific language. I’m quite sure he spent a great deal of time doing research. This is the only reason I give this book 3 stars.