Jack Aubrey has just recently gotten his first command aboard the Sophie, and as luck would have it, he also just met Dr. Stephen Maturin, a perfect fit for ship’s surgeon. Adventure ensues but so do some difficulties. Jack isn’t good at playing the social game that is required of officers as much as felling ships is, and it’s probably going to come back to bite him.
I’m not normally a historical novel reader. I’m one of those ugly Americans who when you ask me about history, I wouldn’t know what to tell you and would likely fail the simplest test. I had a history teacher who was a douche, whatcha gonna do? But as I get older, I do find points in history that interest me, and a time like the aptly named Age of Sail is intriguing. It fascinates me the same way the Old West in American history does, because it was unapologetically messed up and bloody and so different from what I’m familiar with. There was a different code, different rules, with polite society and gory ship battles somehow existing at the same time.
That’s where I need to get into the character of Jack. O’Brian does an immensely clever thing here. He shows just how difficult it would be for a man who embraces battle and the notion of prize money to function in polite society. Jack is a man’s man, and he has a tendency to step in it and get on the bad side of people who would advance him if they didn’t find him to be such a boar. That makes Jack sound terrible, and he isn’t. He’s hilarious, and being hilarious makes him very endearing. He’s good-hearted if not always on the ball about what’s going on around him. He is brilliant with a boat if awful with people. He has to be one of the best male characters I’ve ever read, being so thoroughly written.
Then we have his polar opposite, Stephen Maturin. He’s quiet and introverted, better at handling people and hopeless at understanding what it is Jack and his crew do. Jack really did luck out in finding him, because he’s a very good doctor, even to down to his intense moral ideals about helping everyone, even people with the plague, which Jack isn’t too keen on. And yet these moments when they butt heads are part of what makes the book such a fun read. They’re friends to a fault, but they’re very different men. This book is all about the characters, which is why I’ve taken such a chunk of this review to go over them, because even with sea battles and adventure, Jack and Stephen are what shine.
As much as I loved this book, I have to mark up the point against it. O’Brian really loved his nautical jargon. He loved describing ships and typical tasks for the crew and went into what I assume is very accurate detail during the fights. It was like climbing a mountain getting through these parts and keeping your eye square on the summit. I have to get over this mountain is all. Then I can enjoy the rest. It’s so dense, so technical, and it took me about 125 pages before I reached that summit and realized it wasn’t so bad after all. So I can’t recommend this unless you’re willing to go through that for these characters and their story. Or unless you have an interest in this sort of thing.
As someone who values strong characters, this was a wonderful journey. I laughed my way through this book, because it’s probably the cutest, funniest book about war you’ll ever read. It totally captured me, and I mean to read the rest of the series now, which should say something as it’s quite a commitment with 21 books in all.