Why do the sea-faring adventure novels of Patrick O'Brian enjoy such a phenomenally devoted readership? Actually, O'Brian enthusiasts can take their pick from a variety of qualities of excellence: the sheer command of writing technique; the adroit characterisation of his heroes, every bit as rich and well-rounded as anything in serious fiction; and, of course, the bracingly-realised atmosphere of the sea on which the author sets his tales of derring-do. The latest volume, Blue at the Mizzen
, represents an even greater refinement of O'Brian's art.
His long-time protagonist Jack Aubrey is about to achieve his ambition. Unusually, his finances are in good order and his professional life is ship-shape. But as he reaches the upper echelons of the Captain's list, his prospects of gaining that final promotion are in the balance. In the powder-keg revolutionary atmosphere of South America, his shipmate Stephen Maturin is coming to terms with the loss of his wife by throwing himself into the intelligence work he so enjoys. Both men become involved in a series of labyrinthine intrigues, splendidly punctuated by the action that O'Brian delivers so well. And the writing is as non-pareil as ever:
"Then came the repeated broadsides: this was not the dumb show of usual practice at divisions, but the shattering din of battle, the flashing stabs of fire, the shriek of each gun's very dangerous recoil, the heady scent of powder-smoke along the decks." Blue at the Mizzen
is a treat for lovers of O'Brian and a perfect introduction for those who have not yet read him. --Barry Forshaw
--This text refers to the
’If we had only two or three of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, we would count ourselves lucky; with six or seven the author would be safely among the greats of historical fiction… This is great writing by an undiminished talent. Now on to Volume Twenty, and the liberation of Chile.’ WILLIAM WALDEGRAVE, Literary Review
'I never enjoyed a novel about the sea more. It is not only that the author describes the handling of a ship of 1800 with an accuracy that is as comprehensible as it is detailed, a remarkable feat in itself. Mr O'Brian's three chief characters are drawn with no less sympathy that the vessels he describes, a rare achievement save in the greatest of writers of this genre. It deserves the widest readership.' Irish Times