Customer Review

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Slow but Worth the Effort, June 6, 2006
This review is from: Master and Commander (Paperback)
Master and Commander is the first of a series of books written about a British Naval Captain and his doctor friend who serve aboard a man of war during Britain's war with Napoleonic France. The captain, Jack Aubrey, has just received his commission to command the Sophie, a Brigandine Sloop, off the coast of Spain. He is to interrupt as much French and Spanish shipping as possible. Dr. Stephen Maturin, who in addition to being a brilliant physician has a knack for intelligence gathering, is a bit of an eccentric as he likes to collect rare and at times poisonous wildlife. The novel follows their adventures as they undertake larger and increasingly dangerous missions in Her Majesty's Service.

I picked this up because I enjoyed the film version, starring Russell Crowe, and I'm a big fan of historical fiction. I was torn between giving the book three or four stars but I finally decided on three because it took me so long to finish. That's always the ultimate barometer for how much I enjoy a novel. When it is excellent, I devour it in a matter of days. When it is merely good, it takes me weeks. This one took me almost two months.

For the good points, it was well informed about its period in history and about life aboard a British man of war. The British Navy dominated the seas at the time of the Napoleon and there is fertile ground here to explore most of the major conflicts of the time. O'Brian's accounts of the naval engagements involving the Sophie are gripping. His knowledge of seamanship, practices in the British Navy and how the sailors lived is amazing.

On the downside, I would have enjoyed more character development among the main characters. Aubrey and Maturin come across more like caricatures than men. One of the major plotlines deals with the friction between Captain Aubrey and his First Officer, a Lieutenant Dillon. Dillon has as much seniority and experience as Aubrey but because of politics, he doesn't get his own command. It would have been interesting to see the men deal with their differences more realistically but that never happens. Another criticism is that during the battles you never get the sense of fear or impending doom that you probably should. As the sailors prepare to fire canon balls at other ships and have them hurled back at them, they seem more like children playing a game than men about to risk their lives. Maybe I'm used to modern depictions of war but I would have expected the sailors to be more affected by their comrades who have been maimed or killed in these actions.

Overall it was a worthwhile read and I am likely to make another foray into the world of Aubrey and Maturin but it might be a while.
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