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Some Harbours and only a few High Seas - Third Edition
on 16 June 2012
There have been many attempts by fans of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series to map the places their heroes found adventure, most of them online, however. For those who enjoy having another book open whilst reading, something to hold and pore over, or reliving Jack's and Stephen's journeys, this large-sized paperback is the thing.
Dean King compiles geographic information with recaps of the books' plots and characters without giving away too much if you have not yet read a volume. It is organised by novel, in order, (not including the final, unfinished novel, 21), and chapter titles are cleverly done to reflect the journeys in each novel. Each chapter contains information about main routes travelled, and about locations such as London in 1812, the Port of Cadiz, the Downs, Gib, etc. Some places are well-mapped, particularly the elusive ports of call in the Baltic from "The Surgeon's Mate." The ports and their historical interests are presented, as well as illustrations of places from contemporary woodcuts and prints. The fictitious places are sensitively treated vis-à-vis the real places that surround them, or the places that inspired them, such as houses or landscape or London clubs. There is an adequate but not comprehensive index, a generous bibliography, and some extra information inserted, such as maritime measurements, a map of tradewinds, trade routes, and ocean currents, etc.
The drawback to this volume is that in its format it promises much that is does not deliver. What seems missing most are maps of actions and main events, which are, with a very few exceptions, lacking. Some of the most memorable moments seem to be left out entirely: more detail of the chase through the Grand Banks in the Atlantic, the spot where the HMS Ariel broke its back on the rocks of Brittany, more detail of the route taken by Stephen and Jack when Jack was dressed as a bear in "Post Captain," Maturin's Spanish Castle in Catalonia, the journey to Paris after being captured in Brittany, much more detail of the travelling around Sydney and surrounds, and the islet where the HMS Surprise was when Stephen was struck by a platypus spur, Diana's trip across India, the haring about in Boston and surrounds, and especially the spot where Reade swung the Ringle around the point to escape the Spanish privateer. Also lacking are the details of actions, which would truly compliment any book, fiction or non-fiction, about wartime sailing. All we get is a small inset of the USS Constitution vs Java, and the rest are just action symbols. This might seem paltry to one who has looked up the well-illustrated summary of HMS Surprise's action to protect the East India Fleet, complete with wind direction and tacking, posted by a fan on the Patrick O'Brian website, and surely the reader expects to see some mapping of decisive actions such as the many in the Mediterranean and the one when the Surprise was a Letter of Marque, but the few there are are without adequate detail.
This book is an enjoyable read, but a cursory one, and to anyone used to O'Brian's writing style, this companion to Jack's and Stephen's travels will seem a mere superficial volume of notes where one with more detail would be much more satisfying. The author, a biographer of Patrick O'Brian, would do well to expand this substantially to complement the novels more fully - as it is, this book only whets an appetite for more information that it does not present. If you love Patrick O'Brian's novels, though, you will appreciate this volume as an addition to your Aubrey-Maturin library.