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4.7 out of 5 stars
HMS Surprise
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 11 May 2008
It seems strange now that when O'Brian's Napoleonic sea-faring tales were first published that they were initially compared to C S Forester's 'Hornblower' novels. Even the early books clearly had so much more to them that it now seems faintly absurd,like comparing a Ferrari with a Mondeo. The books obviously haven't changed over time, just peoples perceptions of them. I was lucky enought to find them quite early on &, for me, they seemed like a gift from the Gods & are still amongst my all-time favourite novels. HMS Surprise was the 3rd written & remains one of the very best, possibly only surpassed by The Reverse of the Medal & The Nutmeg of Consolation. The book starts in thrilling fashion with a desperate,audacious rescue (the action reminiscent of something from Dennis Wheatley's Roger Brook series) & finishes with a spectacular sea battle in the Indian Ocean. What falls in between is a heady cocktail of action & adventure, by sea & land, with a poignant episode in India & a near fatal duel & it's aftermath being amongst the more memorable. But this is so much more than just an action/adventure story because fundamental issues of life (& death) are constantly considered & dealt with, not always very wisely but by believable & fully human characters with all their attendant graces & follies. Some of the central characters are given intelligent, enquiring minds so many of the assumptions & practices of the day are questioned & challenged, sometimes literally as well as figuratively. There is also a good measure of ,mainly quiet, humour, with the occasional excrutiating pun. It all adds up to a very broad canvass & one that seems to appeal to a wide audience, even my mum eventually getting hooked on the series !
So, read this book & seek out the others, you'll surely be pleasantly 'Surprised'.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 24 October 2000
I was already enthralled by the sea faring adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his secretive friend Stephen Maturin before I came to this book, but this was the point of no return. I am now happily condemned to read them all.
No less comic or swashbuckling, but with a darker, more mature tone - real tragedy and disappointment haunt these pages. This novel is an extraordinary achievement by any standard.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2001
Post captain is such a fine novel that HMS surprise took some time to draw me in.
This is in fact all a part of O'Brian's magic - once the Surprise is at sea once again I was hooked.
The scenes in India are particularly well- written and deeply moving.
The next instalment is safely ordered . This series is a tremendous treat
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on 30 July 2015
The perfect companion for all historical fiction enthusiasts is THE ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKERCalix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker

Patrick O'Brian's third Aubrey-Maturin volume is H.M.S. Surprise. As I read more of these I come to enjoy them more; this was my favorite of the series so far, as Aubrey and Maturin make their way to Kampong (by way of South America and India) carrying a royal governor, grappling with French squadrons, fickle females, and bureaucrats along the way. Maturin gets the best scenes, from his reaction to finding his pet sloth drunk on ship's grog ("Jack, you have debauched my sloth"), to his casual ordering up of an elephant in India, to his gruesome self-surgery following a battle wound.

There really is so much going on historically it's amazing that the detail doesn't swamp the story. There's also a wonderfully vivid sense of place here, especially when that place is aboard ship. Sometimes, I swear, I could almost taste the salt water. And then there's the sly, dry sense of humor, which probably makes the whole thing worth reading all by itself. You wouldn't expect this sort of book to be laugh-out-loud funny, but it often is.

On a final note, what I admire so much about the series is O'Brien's ability to start with truly excellent characters and to continually give us a more intimate understanding of their lives, their growth, their interactions with each other. He also has a fine sense of detail, narrative, pacing, and is on the whole a great writer in every sense.
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on 9 October 2013
This is the third book in O'Brian's 'Aubrey/Maturin' series. I think, for me, what sets this apart from a lot of the other historical novels I've read to date is how immersive it is. O'Brian's writing has started to draw me into another time so completely it's almost difficult to adjust once I surface at the other end. The urge to jump straight into the next book is hard to resist. The setting and characters and, particularly, the dialogue, seem to me to be so authentic and vivid it's almost impossible to find fault with them. The nautical terms still get a little confusing for me at times. Sometimes I'll think the ships are headed one way when they're headed another, sometimes I'll think the enemy is in one place when they're in completely the opposite, which is down to my lack of understanding of the terms used.

This particular story carries on soon after Post Captain, with Aubrey still in debt and his impending marriage to Sophie on hold as a result. Maturin, meanwhile, is still preoccupied with Diane Villiers, who is quite obviously no good for him. She has travelled to India with another man and, when the chance of a ship and a diplomatic journey to the East Indies is offered, Maturin grabs at it with both hands and gains Aubrey his own ship in the process. That ship is the HMS Surprise of the title, unsurprisingly.

What I found with this novel was that it delves into somewhat darker areas than the previous two, examining each character's obsessions and having them do so as well. The portion of the novel set in Bombay I found quite affecting, especially Maturin's friendship with Dil. Surrounding this is the journey, which is where Aubrey comes into his own - still a genius on the water but totally out of his depth on land. The action sequences are genuinely thrilling (despite my confusion in places!) and there's one part during a storm which is pretty scary. The central friendship between Aubrey and Maturin seems so natural it's a joy to read. The pacing of the novel is pretty much spot on. My favourite in the series so far, it's a cracking read.
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on 3 August 2012
As far as I was concerned, any author who lacked international acclaim and accreditation, was able to write a story which was beyond the bounds of an average cucumber and was able to bring the written word "to life" was, in my rather bigotted opinion, an "Author".

Sadly most of this generation of writers have shuffled off their moral coils at this stage. However, by sheer chance, I came across Patrick O'Brian at a time when I was short of something to read, so I gave him a chance. I'm so glad I did! O'Brian's novels are metriculously researched, have a story line that is credible and are written in a style appropriate to their temporal setting. It is exceptionally difficult to single out one volume, such as "HMS Surprise" from the twenty or so other brilliantly written novels, within a series, other than to say that they are all superb, exemplary and can stand on their own as individual novels in their own right or be read sequentially as a complete corpus magnum.

So, if there are still any blithering buffoons like myself, who believed English fiction to have died in 1918, then just give "HMS Surprise" a perusal if you are short of time; read the whole series if you're not. I believe you'll be pleasantly surprised by this brilliant body of work. It has taken an Irishman, writing about the Royal Navy some two hundred years after the events described, which has changed my views about English writing completely. My only complaint is that I didn't find them earlier. I recommend O'Brian without any reservations whatsoever.
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on 20 October 2009
After 'Master and Commander' I waded straight into 'HMS Surprise' and after the first chapter ran aground like the land-lubber that I am. It struck me that O'Brian had suddenly gone from C.S. Forester (turned up to 11) to Jane Austen (with the volume well and truly turned down). Picking the book up again when I had more time to get into it I relished every sentence. In particular the portrayal of the ups and downs of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin's relationship are beautifully rendered. After a brief sojourn on land the action returns to the sea and is all the more thrilling and intense when it comes. I think that to call this a historical novel (albeit accurately) is a diservice to O'Brian's innovative, tantalising and even poetic narrative. Wonderful stuff - bring on the next 18 volumes in the series!
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on 16 August 2010
O'Brian was an absolute master of his subject. He filled out his narrative with authentic detail of life in the early nineteenth century, together with a surprising depth of knowledge and information about the flora and fauna of that time, and, indeed, to some extent of our own time, insofar as it has survived.

It is not enough to say that these are "impossible to put down" books. O'Brian had that wonderful ability to draw the reader into his tale, so that one feels part of it. If one wants to know about sailing the old wooden walls, read these books, with their sumptious detail of rigging, sails and sailing technique. Never boring, always alive with narrative. I recommend that they are read in sequence if possible.
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on 15 January 2013
I hadn't read the first in the series as I'd seen and loved the film. Book 2-Post Captain was a revelation, matching William Golding's Rites of Passage in its ability to persuade the reader that this was exactly how life was lived aboard ship two hundred years ago. HMS Surprise was even better. The masterly mix of scholarship, language, humour and story telling ability force me to agree with others that O'Brian is a great historical novelist. I am now addicted and will have to lose even more sleep reading the whole Aubrey/Maturin series.
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on 30 January 2011
No. 3 of the Aubrey=Maturin series is even better than Post Captain and goes deeper into personalities. The voyages are fascinating, very exciting and riveting reading. One gets to know and love the ship and realise what Nelson's navy life is all about. Thoroughly recommended. I have given this book to many friends who feel as I do. They always get prompt deliveries from Amazon. This book leads to 'The Mauritius Command' which is the sequel and even better than the other 3. One is drawn on to read all 21 of this wonderful series.
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