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Blue at the Mizzen (Vol. Book 20) (Aubrey/Maturin Novels) Paperback – September 17, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 124 customer reviews
Book 20 of 21 in the Aubrey & Maturin Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Almost three decades after commencing his maritime epic with Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian is still at it. The 20th episode, Blue at the Mizzen, is another swashbuckling adventure on the high seas, complete with romantic escapades from smoggy London to Sierra Leone, diplomacy, espionage, the intricacies of warfare, and imperial brinksmanship. As always, these events are bound up in the ongoing friendship between two officers of the Royal Navy. Jack Aubrey is the naval captain, bold yet compassionate, innovative yet cautious, as fearless in war as he is bumbling in affairs of the heart and household. His boon companion Stephen Maturin is the ship's surgeon--and additionally a spy for the British government, a wealthy Catalonian aristocrat, a doting Irish father, and an avid naturalist.

That may sound like a lot to keep track of. However, it's not necessary to carry around a scorecard or ship's roster while reading Blue at the Mizzen. The ostensible issue is whether Jack will finally be promoted to Admiral of the Blue. But long before he hears any word from the Napoleonic era's equivalent of Personnel, he loses half his crew to desertion, his ship undergoes a disastrous collision, and the entire company comes close to perishing in the ice-choked seas off Cape Horn. Meanwhile, the widowed Maturin issues a surprising proposal of marriage to a beautiful, mud-bespattered fellow naturalist while trekking through an African mangrove swamp. (The two lovebirds happen to be searching for a rare variant of Caprimulgus longipennis, the long-tailed nightjar, which they hope to surprise in full mating plumage.)

Still, this is hardly a plot-driven novel. O'Brian takes time to get anywhere, and invariably enjoys the journey more than the arrival. So even as we get constant hints of the climax to come--Jack's spectacular naval action on behalf of the infant Republic of Chile--we don't mind hearing about the nuances of shipboard existence or the secret life of the white-faced tree duck. We're treated, for example, to this snippet about managed care, circa 1816:

Poll, Maggie and a horse-leech from the starboard watch have been administering enemas to the many, many cases of gross surfeit that have now replaced the frostbites, torsions, and debility of the recent past, the very recent past. Strong, fresh, seal-meat has not its equal for upsetting the seaman's metabolism: he is much better kept on biscuits, Essex cheese, and a very little well-seethed salt pork--kept on short commons.
And we're grateful! We can only hope that the elderly author will favor us with at least one more novel, so that his avid followers can avoid their own form of short commons. Life without Aubrey and Maturin would be a deprivation indeed. --Andrew Himes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

With bittersweet pleasure, readers may deem this 20thAand possibly finalAinstallment in O'Brian's highly regarded series featuring Capt. Jack Aubrey of the English Royal Navy and Stephen Maturin, ship's doctor, the best of the lot. Post-Waterloo, the frigate Surprise sets sail to South America as a "hydrographical vessel," ostensibly to survey the Straits of Magellan and Chile's southern coast. In fact, Jack and Stephen are to offer help to the Chilean rebels trying to break free from Spain. On their way down the coast of West Africa, romance blossoms for both men. Jack's liaison (with his cousin, Isobel, in Gibraltar) is brief, but widower Stephen's passion for Christine Wood, a naturalist who has been his correspondent for some time, turns serious in Sierra Leone. The doctor's correspondence with Christine begins with accounts of his explorations in Africa and South America, referencing, say, an "anomalous nuthatch" or the "etymology of doldrum," but they're quite wonderful love letters, functioning as a chorus to the action. Once in Chile, despite the conflict between opposing rebel camps, Jack leads a successful raid on a treasure fort in Valdivia, followed by the seizure of a Peruvian frigate to be turned over to the Chilean rebels, triumphs that reap him a just reward; at that point, readers will learn the title's significance. Throughout, familiar characters abound and entertain, especially the amusingly nasty steward, Killick, and Stephen's "loblolly girl" (nurse), Poll Skeeping. And finally, there is Horatio Hanson, bastard son of a nobleman, who comes on board as a midshipman, a dashing young foil for the ship's elders. O'Brian has rightfully been compared to Jane Austen, but one wonders if even she would have done justice to "those extraordinary hollow dwellings, sometimes as beautiful as they were comfortless." To use one of Stephen's favorite expressions, "What joy!" Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Nov.) FYI: Over three million copies of the books in the Aubrey/Maturin series have been sold. O'Brian will make two mid-November appearances in New York, one already sold out. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Aubrey/Maturin Novels (Book 20)
  • Paperback: 261 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039332107X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321074
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In addition to twenty volumes in the highly respected Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O'Brian's many books include "Testimonies," "The Golden Ocean," and "The Unknown Shore". O'Brian also wrote acclaimed biographies of Pablo Picasso and Sir Joseph Banks and translated many works from the French, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Lacouture's biographies of Charles de Gaulle. He passed away in January 2000 at the age of 85.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A few years ago, I happened to be traveling in Kazhakstan, and met up with a fellow westerner. We struck up a friendly conversation when I noticed he was reading an Aubrey-Maturin novel. "Oh yes, I love them." he said, "But I've got only two more to go. And when I finish, I don't know what I'll do." I knew exactly what he meant; at least back then we could look ahead to the indefatigable Patrick O'Brian's ongoing output.
But now we're done for. I read "Blue at the Mizzen" two weeks after the sad news of O'Brian's death. As I closed in on the ending, the lump in my throat had nothing to do with the resolution of the plot. And it wasn't really for the drying-up of this amazing flow of dialog and description. Like all great literature, the books will be there forever, to be re-read with pleasure and recommended to friends and family. No, it was for poor Jack and Stephen. Because by now I know well how long it takes to sail around the Horn and I could tell by the number of pages remaining that the tale would end-with the usual flurry of action-but that the two particular friends would still be standing out to sea, far from England. Like Capt. Cook, the great navigator the stories owe so much too, Aubrey and Maturin are triumphant and ever hopeful, but their bones can never rest at home.
If you are a reader of the series, there is no question that you are going to read this book. The only worry is the details. Buy now, or wait for the paperback edition? I say, go for it. And be assured that O'Brian went out at the top of his form. "The Hundred Days" seemed hackneyed and tired, but "Blue at the Mizzen" has all the dialog, the detail and intrigue, all the warmth of the best of the series.
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By A Customer on February 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
About five years ago I was introduced to the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian. I first read The Wine Dark Sea, and then I returned to the beginning of the series and promptly read all of the books in the series.
In recent years, I have eagerly awaited the release of new books in the series. And, Blue at the Mizzen was worth the wait.
The Aubrey and Maturin characters have evolved as individuals, as they have aged and had other experiences in life. Unlike most of the earlier books in the series, Blue at the Mizzen features Dr. Maturin to a greater degree than the brooding Capt. Aubrey whose concern over his future makes him more remote to both Maturin and to the reader. After O'Brian killed off Dr. Maturin's wife in The Hundred Days, Dr. Maturin surprisingly develops a romantic interest in a fellow naturalist, Christine Wood. Their romantic episode is odd, but given Maturin's character, that is not really surprising.
As usual, a lot happens in this book, but as in the other books, O'Brian often unleashes the action in a understated or offhanded way. Events happen with little or no warning or with minimal discussion. The intelligence activities involving the Republic of Chile are not as clearly described, for example, as Maturin's South American intelligence activities in The Wine Dark Sea. As with other books in the series, the action sometimes is secondary to the activities on the ship, the relationships of the main and minor characters, and Maturin's focus on the birds and beasts that they encounter. Even so, Blue on the Mizzen was an enjoyable book that held my interest.
How does it compare with the other books in the series? Good question. Personally, I liked it better than The Yellow Admiral, which spent too much time on shore.
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Format: Paperback
Some critics have referred to the Aubrey/Maturin books as one long novel united not only by their historical setting but also by the central plot element of the Aubrey/Maturin friendship. Having read these fine books over a period of several years, I decided to evaluate their cumulative integrity by reading them consecutively in order of publication over a period of a few weeks. This turned out to be a rewarding enterprise. For readers unfamiliar with these books, they describe the experiences of a Royal Navy officer and his close friend and traveling companion, a naval surgeon. The experiences cover a broad swath of the Napoleonic Wars and virtually the whole globe.
Rereading all the books confirmed that O'Brian is a superb writer and that his ability to evoke the past is outstanding. O'Brian has numerous gifts as a writer. He is the master of the long, careful description, and the short, telling episode. His ability to construct ingenious but creditable plots is first-rate, probably because he based much of the action of his books on actual events. For example, some of the episodes of Jack Aubrey's career are based on the life of the famous frigate captain, Lord Cochrane. O'Brian excels also in his depiction of characters. His ability to develop psychologically creditable characters through a combination of dialogue, comments by other characters, and description is tremendous. O'Brien's interest in psychology went well beyond normal character development, some books contain excellent case studies of anxiety, depression, and mania.
Reading O'Brien gives vivid view of the early 19th century. The historian Bernard Bailyn, writing of colonial America, stated once that the 18th century world was not only pre-industrial but also pre-humanitarian (paraphrase).
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Blue at the Mizzen (Vol. Book 20)  (Aubrey/Maturin Novels)
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