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210 of 215 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the effort
From reading the previous reviews it is apparent that this novel polarises opinions like few others, i.e. you'll either love it or hate it. People who hate it find the language archaic, "eighteenth century nautical terms scattered like confetti", the characters wooden and hard to sympathise with, and struggle to engage with the novelist. Many readers, perhaps enticed by...
Published on 1 Jun. 2007 by Peter Groome

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 (just not for me)
This is a serious case of not the right reader for the book. The writing is wonderful and undoubtedly a ton of research must have gone into it. And if you're a person who is interested in naval fiction, especially naval fiction of the time, I imagine you will LOVE this book. I am not such a read and as such, I was bored.

The first half of the book is VERY HEAVY...
Published 3 months ago by Sadie Forsythe


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210 of 215 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the effort, 1 Jun. 2007
By 
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This review is from: Master and Commander (Paperback)
From reading the previous reviews it is apparent that this novel polarises opinions like few others, i.e. you'll either love it or hate it. People who hate it find the language archaic, "eighteenth century nautical terms scattered like confetti", the characters wooden and hard to sympathise with, and struggle to engage with the novelist. Many readers, perhaps enticed by the Russell Crowe film, will find themselves buying this book and then struggling to get beyond the first chapter. It is not easy reading, not like Sharpe, or Hornblower that you can race through, especially at the outset. However, if you like a book with a bit of substance behind it, are prepared to do a little bit of work to understand what is going on, and will give the characters room to breathe, you may just find yourself rewarded beyond expectations as a treasurehouse opens up before you.

This is the first of a series of twenty novels and you really do need to read them in sequence, (1. Master and Commander, 2. Post Captain, 3. HMS Surprise etc.),as the author tends to tell you something once and then expects you to remember it. If you start with The Far Side of the World, number ten, because of the film, you will be hopelessly adrift; nothing the characters do or say will make any sense, and the plot is very different from the film so you will not recognise what you are reading.

Start with this one then, book one and don't just skim it for the adventure story. Climb the rigging with the lubberly Dr Stephen Maturin and listen as he has explained to him the masts, yards and sails of the Sophie. After only a few pages you know the difference between the foremast and the mizzen, the stays, tops and ratlines. You will benefit from getting some maps; Minorca and the Spanish coast east of Gibraltar (look them up as soon as the place names come out of the text). You want to get a feel for the shape of the coast, harbours and ports. Don't spend any money, just five minutes with the Google map facility and print them off, nicely magnified so you get all the capes and points. Now you can feel the tension as the Sophie ducks under the enemy guns, steals a prize and races for safety with a half dozen frigates in hot pursuit; all the naval engagements make a whole lot more sense; you might even mark the positions of the vessels and follow their movements; Patrick O'Brian gives you enough description to clearly visualise every detail and this is where he scores most of his points and wins his lifelong devotees. The author had vast resources of knowledge about naval engagements of the period and most of the action is painstakingly recreated from real events, as reported by those who took part in them. This is far more than historical fiction, it is the bringing back to vivid life of a period of our relatively recent history.

Next if you find the story intriguing but the nautical terms frustrating (you are not alone in this), you might consider purchasing a reference book: The World of Jack Aubrey by David Miller (I paid £5.99), a shortish, hard-backed book for the twenty-first century reader, full of diagrams and explanations and with a glossary of technical terms. The mysteries of the stunsail, the use of the log, the bells of the watch and the use of the glass will all become clear, along with good descriptions of the various vessels that feature, from lateens to bum-boats, sloops and brigs, the points of the compass and the different fighting styles of the British and French men o' war (British preferred solid shot aimed at the hull that sent explosions of splinters through the enemy crew, wheras the French preferred chain and grape shot to disable and capture.

A further book is a worthwhile purchase, Admiral W.H. Smyth's The Sailor's Word-Book (Conway £9.99). This fat period tome comprises over 14,000 nautical and naval terms, every technical word used by Patrick O'Brian is in there, described in crisp clarity, the Admiral spent the seven years of his retirement from 1858 - 1865 working on this mine of information and the Aubrey/Maturin enthusiast will have this reference close by at all times.

To bring the experience fully to life I would also recommend a day out to the Portsmouth historic harbour; a couple of hours inhaling the air aboard the H.M.S. Victory touching the cables and absorbing the perspectives will be well spent.

If you find yourself shouting, "Vast that anchor", to your wife in the Sainsbury's car park, and your kids buy you a parrot for Christmas then it's possible that you might be allowing your enthusiasm to carry you a little too far, but until then, enjoy the journey.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be put off, 21 Feb. 2007
This review is from: Master and Commander (Paperback)
I came at this series from a background of reading a lot of fantasy / sci-fi and Tom Clancy type adventure - all of which are easy to read and conjure up a picture in your mind.

I had two false starts on this book, where I got about 30 pages in and then gave up as the language seemed hard and the terms technical. I then made a determined effort to stick with it and finish the book and have never made a better decision in terms of reading. This is one of the best and most engaging series I have ever read and you find that, as the books unfold, various nautical terms are explained. The best idea is just to carry on reading and not worry - the plots are excellent and characterisation is second to none. I enjoyed the first reading for the story, the second for the characters and even now, on my approx 6th time through, still find new sub plots and meanings I never noticed before.

Give this series a chance and give yourself a good stretch at first read to get into it - once you do you should hopefully find, as I did, that this is one of the best series ever written - full stop - and one that can be read again and again.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin become particular friends, 15 Nov. 2003
By 
Lawrance Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Master and Commander (Paperback)
A movie that is adopted from a novel presents the eternal quandary as to whether you should read the novel before or after seeing the film. However, with the release today of "Master and Commander: The Far Side of World" you have a unique opportunity to do both. Although we have assumed this Russell Crowe film was an amalgam of the first and tenth novels in the series of twenty written by Patrick O'Brien starting in 1970, that is not the case. The film is based squarely on "The Far Side of the World," although certainly liberties have been taken with translating the work to the screen (the enemy ship is now a French vessel in 1805 durng the Napoleonic Wars instead of an American ship during the War of 1812). This means that reading "Master and Commander" before seeing the film would actually work to your advantage, because you would then understand the relationship between "Lucky" Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, which begins in this first novel.
On the first of April in the year 1800 two of the most important things in his life happen to John Aubrey, Esquire. Not only is he appointed Commander of His Majesty's Sloop "Sophie," but he makes the acquaintance of Dr. Maturin. Aubrey, who is taller and broad shouldered, plays the violin, which the smaller Maturin plays the cello. Aubrey is the embodiment of an English seaman while Maturin is an absent-minded intellectual. Outside of their love of music there is little to recommend one to the other, but this is the beginning of one of the great friendships in literature. Many times we will be reminded through these books that each is the other's particular friend, and that friendship begins here. Consequently, you can read "Master and Commander" and it will enhance you experience of watching the movie because it provides all you really need to know about the back story concerning this deep friendship which is a recurring subtext of the film.
Aubrey's first command, H.M.S. "Sophie," is an old, slow brig and unlikely to help him fulfill his dream of making a fortune in captured French and Spanish prizes, all of which are bigger and better than his small ship. If there is a theme to this first novel it is the story of how Jack Aubrey came to earn the sobriquet "Lucky," and how he pushed that luck right to edge, and a bit beyond. In the telling of this tale O'Brian amply demonstrates both Aubrey's capacities and his vulnerabilities, both of which are explored in future volumes.
You have to think of this as a series rather than a novel, because after reading this book and seeing the movie you want to progress to the second O'Brian volume, "Post Captain," and not skip ahead to "The Far Side of the World." This is not Horatio Hornblower; these Aubrey-Maturin novels were written in order and the first half-dozen volumes are the ones most grounded in naval history (O'Brian liked to take real engagements and add his characters and their ship into the mix). For his 21st birthday I got my son the entire 20-volume series and one of the many excellent companion volumes that are out there.
Just be aware that if you get the movie tie-in editions of "Master and Commander" and/or "The Far Side of the World" that they are slightly larger than the standard paperback editions. Consequently when they are all lined up on your bookcase having them is going to keep your collection from looking shipshape.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, and first book of a tremendous series., 8 Oct. 1999
By A Customer
Master and Commander is excellent, and the gateway to the enormously enjoyable Aubrey and Maturin novels. It is not often that one can happen upon such a long series of superb books, so if this is your first contact with O'Brien, I envy you.
The action elements of these naval tales are fully the equal of the classic of the genre, Forester's Hornblower novels, but benefit from a less episodic style. The O'Brien series, however, is far stronger than the Hornblowers in the area of character and personal plot lines. After reading a few of them Aubrey and Maturin seem utterly real and known people, and their development through their various adventures, naval and romantic, is masterly.
At the risk of sounding sexist, these novels open up the realm of military historic fiction to a female reader (like me), and so are a rare example of quality light literature of equal appeal to both sexes.
Most highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, funny and sublime., 5 Mar. 2012
By 
Angular Square (The Outer Darkness) - See all my reviews
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This is from 1970 and is the first in the Aubrey/Maturin series of seafaring novels. Following Stephen Maturin a peniless natural philosopher and physician and the plump, young Naval lieutenant Jack Aubrey. The two meet in an opera house and become friends. We join the Doctor as he boards the Sophie and gets a taste of life aboard a tiny crowded Naval brig of 1801. The Doctor keenly and wryly observes the shifting dynamics of the quarter-deck. We get a sense of the complex and sometimes bizarre nature of civilised War and of Naval affairs in the Mediterranian. The Doctor has both Irish and Catalan nationality and we get a political elements in the mix as well.

Most people who like C S Forester's Hornblower or the host of lesser imitators will not like this. You can't skip through this looking for the action sequences. It is actually grown up proper literature. It does have battles but O'Brian has a habit of confounding our expectations. He will take us up to the point where the fighting is about to start, Only to pull away from the action, the reader only finding out the outcome in a casual conversation days later. The characters are warmly realised, with no concession to modernity at all. Many writers of "historical fiction" give way to temptation and make their character more modern and like us than their contemporarys. Not so O'Brian. He is better than that. Doctor Maturin will use the same knife to eat with as he uses to dissect a dead girl, and only give it a wipe. There is a rich vein of humour in this book with O'Brien finding humour everwhere. One plot strand is the crewman, in chains for unnatural relations with the ship's goat. "milk in your tea sir?" "What kind of milk?" "Goat's milk sir" "I don't think so" We are presented with a blizzard of nautical terms, which you don't really have to understand to appreciate the story. But O'Brian doesn't really help the reader with the shifting geopolitics of this period. Maybe some background viewing or reading on the Napoleonic Wars would help. You dont get a map. It does make things a bit easier if you understand the geography so a map of the Med is a good idea.

I got an enormous amount of fun from this book,a stylish and witty study of humanity, politics, and warfare with sparkling dialogue. This reads more like a contemporary novel than a historical one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book for all seasons ?, 11 Jan. 2007
This review is from: Master and Commander (Paperback)
Well, thank god i didn't listen to the "off" reviews of this book as I would never have started reading these novels, since I am an avid fan of the Hornblower series and anything with a nautical flavor to it.

I find the references to O'Brian's boring descriptions of life aboard a Naval ship somewhat misleading, as they often compare them to Foresters monologues of the same ilke and even I have to admit to being "bored" a few times with Foresters often overindulged technical depiction of a working life at sea.

But therein lies the rub, life at sea was tedious and altogether wearisome when not in action, and to describe that life in as much detail as possible without overburdening the reader too much is an art, and Forester was an artist in that respect.

So too is O'Brian, and often better at it than Forester, but the two writers are worlds apart, only connected by the subject matter. Forester could write in the style of Dickens with a penchant for the swashbuckling and heroism of its central characters, but O'Brian pens his lines in the style of Jane Austin, with a more hands on approach to life in the era, not just at sea, but on land as well, with a more atmospheric approach to the life people led in society as much as profession.

Where O'Brian diverges his narrative to the characters and their personalities with their thoughts and actions, Forester was more prone to be flippant at times and gloss over these trivialities and concentrate more on the technical virtues of the characters capabilities.

Both these styles of writing have their worth and I would not in any circumstances try to balance one with the other, as I now have the advantage of enjoying both worlds apart, together.

O'Brian series is a welcome addition to my appreciation of a quality of life we have all but forgotten, and I would say to anyone contemplating further reading with O'Brian, to take the lulls and slacks with the squalls and storms and soak up the air and ambience and indulge yourself in an historical journey through a transition from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century life of a British naval seaman.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does justice to the book, 14 Jan. 2004
By 
TONY "Hotvalve" (Lancashire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Master and Commander (Audio CD)
Firstly, for those new to O'Brian's oeuvre, regardless of the title this is not the audio book of the film. 'Master and Commander' is the first in the series of Aubrey/Maturin novels, charting the first meeting between the two men and their adventures in the Mediterranean aboard the brig 'Sophie'.
After reading the entire Aubrey/Maturin series, I came to this, my first encounter with an audio version, with trepidation. Would it spoil my 'inner vision' of the remarkable naval world created by O'Brian?
However my fears were unfounded. Robert Hardy conveys the multi-faceted pleasures of O'Brian's writing with real enthusiasm, and his excellent vocal characterisations endow the Sophie's Captain and crew with an extra dimension (his Maturin is much better than my imagined one). I found myself enjoying the story almost as though I were experiencing it for the first time.
At 4.5 hours this is a long audio book, good value even if you have already read the book and a superb introduction to the series for anyone venturing aboard for the first time.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good, 18 Aug. 2005
This review is from: Master & Commander (Aubrey-Maturin) (Hardcover)
I read the older print of this book - same text but without the useful little diagram at the front telling you what rope's what. So I found it rather hard to figure out what on earth it meant by all this and all that.
I didn't really find that it deterred me from reading it, or enjoying it though. I gained a better knowledge or ropes and things from it and the workings of a boat, as well as the life of officers and crew.
It is no Hornblower - no heroic histories, but a story of life on board the Sophie - and the relationship between the Captain, his officers and his crew. The relationship between the boat and her captain and crew and of course - the doctor Stephen Mautrin and Captain Jack Aubrey's friendship - personified by their shared love of the violin and the cello.
Definately a series I want to continue reading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Historical Novel I have ever read, 31 May 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Master and Commander (Paperback)
I could not recommend this excellent series enough; the characters are superbly drawn and beleivable, the setting is perfectly described and in beautiful detail, the story carries you away with its breathtaking use of language, and above all it is the most historically accurate book I have ever had the pleasure to read. And the fact that this is the first in a series of some 20 novels is a real bonus. Buy it, you will be hooked by O'Brian's marvellous creations, Captain Aubrey and Dr Maturin.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Master & Commander, 19 Mar. 2013
By 
Steve D (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Master and Commander (Paperback)
Well for me this was definitely a book of two halves. Beginning in Minorca with an elbow in the ribs, as Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin meet for the very first time at a music-room recital (Maturin isn't very happy with Aubrey's enthusiasm for the music), the story gets off to a decent, humourous start. Once it sets sail, however, there is page after page after page riddled with nautical terms. Seeing as I don't know my leeward from my larboard or my main topgallant from my stuns'l, at times I found this was like reading a foreign language. O'Brian casts Maturin as a lubber, and has various members of the Sophie's crew explain this and that to him, but I definitely found my mind drifting in those parts. To add to my confusion, the vessel upon which the characters serve in this book is a sloop, the aforementioned Sophie, which has two masts, yet the diagram at the start of the novel, which tries to explain masts and sails, has three! I also found, as battle was joined, invariably there would be so many ships named in so short a time that I lost track of which one belonged to which side.

Perhaps I should have concentrated harder, but I persevered, and I'm very glad that I did.

About halfway through, this aspect of the novel suddenly drops away, the pace picks up, and suddenly I was into the book that I'd expected to find from the start, full of exciting sea chases and battles and characters who have very quietly become fully rounded individuals, and it's really fun to read. In fact, I actually found myself fearing for the characters, as the sloop goes up against far greater forces, as cannonballs rip through hulls and rigging, and as the crew board other ships to fight hand-to-hand. I almost forgot how much I struggled with the first half but, just to ease my suddenly aroused curiosity, I ordered a copy of The World of Jack Aubrey, so that when I read the next book, Post Captain, - which I now cannot wait to do - I will be a bit better prepared. Hopefully. I can't help thinking, though, that it comes to something when you have to buy another book just to be able to follow the book you're reading. Hmm.

So, for the first half of the book I'd probably give a 3, but for the second it ramps up to a 5. Split the difference.
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Master & Commander (Aubrey-Maturin)
Master & Commander (Aubrey-Maturin) by Patrick O`brian (Hardcover - 29 Mar. 1995)
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