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The Letter of Marque (Vol. Book 12) (Aubrey/Maturin Novels) Hardcover – August 17, 1990

4.7 out of 5 stars 98 customer reviews
Book 12 of 21 in the Aubrey & Maturin Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For over 16 novels, Patrick O'Brian has been carrying readers away to the wave-tossed-seas with Nelson's navy. Steeped in exquisite period detail, breathtaking prose, and bold adventure, The Letter of Marque continues the saga of Jack Aubrey, brilliant yet disgraced officer, and Stephan Maturin, ship's surgeon and British intelligence operator. Together they sail on a desperate mission against the French, which, if successful, may redeem Aubrey from the private hell of his disgrace.

From Publishers Weekly

If Jane Austen wrote Royal Navy yarns, they might read like this sequel to Master and Commander and Post Captain (which Norton issues in paperback in August). In the early 1800s, Captain Jack Aubrey, unjustly drummed out of service, is now master of the "letter of marque" (privateer) frigate Surprise , secretly owned by Stephen Maturin, ship's doctor/naturalist/abandoned husband/opium-eater and intelligence agent. The major events here are two great sea victories that make Jack a rich folk-hero, and Stephen's winning back of his wife and breaking his laudanum habit. Jack's seamanship and heroism are complemented by Stephen's absent-minded brilliance, their friendship cemented by their shared music-making (violin and cello, respectively). The early-19th-century locutions are fascinating, as are the evocation of period shipboard life (including ship-provisioning and naval lingo), Whitehall politics (rotten boroughs, etc.) and drug addiction (coca leaf-chewing as well as opium-eating). Seafarers and landlubbers alike will enjoy this swift, witty tale of money and love.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Aubrey/Maturin Novels (Book 12)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 17, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393028747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393028744
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #992,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 26, 2003
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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Format: Hardcover
Stephen Maturin once noted that Aristotle's definition of tragedy encompassed not only a great man being brought down but also the redemption and raising up of a man who had been laid low. Fortunes can reverse in many ways, and Aristotle recognized the literary and moral value of each.
In the twelfth of Patrick O'Brian's wonderful series of twenty naval adventures, a combination of luck, adherence to honor, and determination turn Jack Aubrey's fortunes. The HMS Surprise is sold out of the service - to Maturin, whose intelligence activities continue in Britain and promise a voyage to South America. First, though, Aubrey undertakes two voyages as a privateer, under a "letter of marque", which combined with Maturin's unmasking of a spy, restore his reputation. Maturin's private reputation has similarly suffered from false gossip about his doings in Malta (in "Treason's Harbour"), and he must similarly seek redemption in a typically private way. So, Maturin travels to Sweden to reconcile with his wife. This gives occasion for the reappearance of the Blue Peter diamond, and further exploration of Maturin's complicated relationship with Diana.
"The Letter of Marque" closes the book on many of setbacks that Aubrey and Maturin suffered recently, leaving them reunited, restored, and with their decks otherwise cleared for action in succeeding volumes. As always, O'Brian's writing is intelligent, informed, and full of wonderful historical nuance.
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Format: Paperback
In THE LETTER OF MARQUE, Patrick O'Brian manages another exceptional entry into what is arguably the finest long series of novels in English of the twentieth century. As many have noted, these novels are simply unsurpassed for their combination of literary quality, historical veracity, dramatic tension, and narrative excellence. This particular volume also has more action than any in the series in a long while. It is also quite possibly the most upbeat in the series up to this point. My own theory is that O'Brian conceived both the previous novel, THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL, and this one as companions. The former takes the fortunes of our heroes Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin to exceedingly low points; in fact, things never got so bad for Jack Aubrey as they did in that one. In this novel, however, a world of troubles comes to an end. Whereas at the end of THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL Jack was publicly shamed by having been taken off the naval lists and stripped of his rank, by the end of THE LETTER OF MARQUE he knows that he will be restored with seniority to the Royal Navy within a few months. Whereas before Jack's financial affairs were in dismal shape, now he is wealthier than he has ever been, thanks to two extraordinary successes commanding the letter of marque (i.e., privateer) Surprise, lately of the King's Navy as the H.M.S. Surprise. And while his sham trial and conviction wasn't able to tarnish his reputation as completely as his father's political enemies had hoped, he nonetheless had seen better days in the public eye. Now, however, thanks to his great naval victories as a privateer, he had become something of a popular hero.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Frankly, I didn't have very high expectations for this twelfth installment in the saga of Capt. Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin; turning the Surprise into a privateer seemed to be merely scrambling for a plot twist. But, however (as they say), I was mistaken. O'Brian takes the opportunity to point up the significant social and operational differences between the national and private man-of-war, the superior attitudes of the "real" navy toward those not in blue and gold uniform, and the real advantages sometimes enjoyed by the privately financed operation. And he sensitively explores Jack's deep depression at being separated from the service. Moreover, we all know Jack's estrangement, the result of his engineered conviction on trumped-up charges of rigging the stock market, cannot last. And, indeed, his sobriquet of "Lucky Jack" comes to the fore as his first cruise, intended only as a two-week shakedown exercise in preparation for a surreptitiously government-backed diplomatic and intelligence-gathering expedition to the Pacific coast of South America, quickly turns into a triumphant procession of Franco-American prizes back to Plymouth. There are also several interesting sub-plots, including Stephen's reconciliation with his departed wife, Diana, and his gradual but unintentional weaning from his extreme opium habit via his Irish servant. I'm pleased to recommend this yarn as one of the best in the mid-part of this series. (But if you haven't read the previous four or five, you'll have no idea of what's going on.)
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