Bryan enjoyed Master and Commander, and you would, too


Bryan Caskey, having read the first book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels, has posted a glowing review on his own blog, Permanent Press.

As he wrote to me upon finishing Master and Commander:

I enjoyed it immensely, even with having to wade through the nautical lingo. It was sort of like reading Shakespeare in that it’s sort of confusing at first, but if you keep plowing through, you get used to the writing, and eventually you don’t have to focus so much on figuring what the heck is going on. One nice thing about the Kindle is that you can touch any word, and the Wikipedia entry for it comes up, so it’s a breeze to look up all the odd words. This was also my first time reading a Kindle, and I’ve enjoyed the lightness of not carrying around a heavy ol’ book. The one-touch lookup also saved me from dragging around some sort of Royal Navy dictionary.

The end battle was sort of odd, with JA not participating. The battle against the Cacafuego was shorter than I hoped, but I enjoyed how afterwards Harte tried to minimize the action by complaining about all the supplies that JA needed from the yard after the battle. Hopefully, JA will not continue to sabotage his career with these sorts of personal indiscretions.

I liked the Court-martial bit toward the end in addition to all of JA’s interaction with higher-ranked naval officers. Throughout, the descriptions of the ocean and how ships cut through the water are wonderful. I now understand the title of the second book Post Captain, as it’s a rank – not something to do with the mail. I’m guessing he makes the rank of Post Captain near the end of the book, setting him up to really “let every stitch of cloth fly” in the next book – to use the vernacular.

I’ll try to get through Post Captain before I go on vacation so I can enjoy HMS Surprise while I’m actually on vacation in the Dominican Republic.

All in all, a wonderful read that is a nice easy transition from all the non-fiction I’ve read. While this is fiction, it has a decidedly non-fiction tone about it.

The most non-fiction thing about that first book is that it is based so faithfully upon the early career of Lord Cochrane, upon whom Jack Aubrey is in part based.

In reality, the astounding Sophie-Cacafuego battle depicted in the novel was between Cochrane’s real-life Speedy and the Spanish xebec-frigate Gamo — down to the smallest detail, including the parts you assume must be made up.

As for JA being sidelined during the battle of Algeciras — well, that’s what happened to Cochrane, so it happens to Lucky Jack as well.

But as to Bryan’s hope that “JA will not continue to sabotage his career with these sorts of personal indiscretions…” Well, Jack is a lion at sea, a man perfectly in his element. But he has a lot of trouble knowing how to behave on shore, which will cause further problems. Just so you’re forewarned. Dr. Maturin is the opposite, a lubber who will never lose his land legs. Which is good, as Bryan notes: “O’Brian nicely uses the device of explaining everything to Maturin (who knows nothing about sailing), as a way of explaining everything to the reader.”

Folks, if you haven’t read these books, you’re missing out. There’s no better historical fiction anywhere. But aside from literary merit, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin will become two of your best friends. Their world, that of Nelson’s Navy, will become yours, and you’ll want to spend all your time there.

Fortunately, there are 20 novels in the series. I envy Bryan that he still has all but one still before him. I envy him, but wish him joy nonetheless…


18 thoughts on “Bryan enjoyed Master and Commander, and you would, too

  1. Bryan Caskey

    I will also admit that I have a bit more trouble following ship-to-ship action than I do land battles where soldiers are defending/attacking certain positions. Maybe it’s because my family is all Army guys, so all the concepts are much more familiar to me.

    For instance, I understand double envelopment maneuvers, guarding one’s flanks as a defense, static defenses, keeping a strategic reserve force to be able to deploy at the right moment, and general tactics like that.

    On the flip side, the naval tactics are all new to me. Basically all I know is that the wind (weather gauge) is important, and you want to try and do the “crossing the T move“.

    So while I’m excited about learning more about naval tactics/strategy, I’m still low on the learning curve, relative to land-based tactics/strategy.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      The basic tactic for a full-scale fleet action is that the line-of-battle ships — the largest ships with greatest firepower, forerunners of “battleships” of later times — literally line up, each one’s bow close enough to the stern of the ship before it that the enemy can’t slip between them and rake them both.

      Smaller vessels, from frigates on down to sloops such as the Sophie, are free to move about. One of their roles is to stand off from the line of battle and repeat signals to the ships of the line, which they otherwise would not be able to see because of being in a line. In a battle, they might swarm around enemy ships of the line and attack as opportunities present themselves.

      For most of his career, Jack will (fortunately for him) avoid commanding the larger ships with their monotonous mission of sailing in a line (such ships may find themselves sailing back and forth in the same spot for months, as they keep the French fleet bottled up in port). In frigates, he has the opportunity for independent action, which is his forte. That’s far more exciting for the reader, and more profitable for Jack, in terms of opportunities for prize money…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Thanks. While I will read these books and enjoy learning the naval stuff, it still doesn’t change my position on one crucial issue:

          1. Bryan Caskey

            I know, I know.

            The last time Army beat Navy the Enron scandal was just barely starting to break. That’s a long time ago.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Yeah, but the Vikings weren’t really a strict naval power, were they?

      The Vikings sort of seem like the forerunners of the amphibious warfare that we associate with the Marine Corps – relatively small units of fierce fighters land on hostile shores and then close and destroy the enemy in coastal areas.

      But the Vikings were also a little more like pirates than the Marine Corps. Didn’t they sort of just pillage the civilian populace?

      1. Claus

        I think the Vikings are as much of a folklore as the Wild West. Yeah they existed but not to what story tellers made them out to be. Most Vikings were apparently farmers, unlike the predecessors to Sons of Anarchy mentality shown on the History Channel program. Not to say they didn’t raid, pillage, rape, kidnap, etc… but not on a weekly basis as shown on television. Along the same lines as there likely wasn’t a daily gun fight at high noon in Tombstone, AZ. I read an article years ago that you were more likely to die of boredom in Tombstone than by a bullet.

  2. Karen Pearson

    As far as I can tell from the comparatively little history I’ve read, the Vikings were more nearly like the Israelites entering Canaan (the real story, not the one sided version portrayed in the Bible. They were invaders, sure, but invaders seeking more land. They would descend upon a town or village, killing the men or forcing them to flee, and enslaving the women and children. They did it in waves, as migrants normally do, rather than all at once. This story has been told again and again in history, usually from the side of the winners.

  3. Karen Pearson

    BTW, love that picture of the ship with the sails properly named. I had never had the names of the sails on a square rigged ship properly identified before.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Nor are there any royals shown…

        Of course, as the man in charge of the dockyard advises Aubrey, a good captain “never sets his royals — nasty unnecessary, flash gimcrack things…”

  4. Howard Weaver

    I bought my first O’Brian at the bookstore of the Royal Obsevatory in Greenwich, where I had repaired after reading Longitude and wanted to see the chronometers there. Such a perfect introduction to what is, as Brad maintains, the best historical fiction ever.
    A glass with you, sir.


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