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The Surgeon's Mate (Aubrey/Maturin) Paperback – January 17, 1992

4.6 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews
Book 7 of 21 in the Aubrey & Maturin Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

O'Brian's superb series on the early-19th-century adventures of Jack Aubrey, a Royal Navy officer, and his friend Stephen Maturin, Navy surgeon and naturalist, continues with a look at the darker side of Maturin's life: his work in British intelligence. Aubrey, Maturin and Diana Villiers (Maturin's fickle and enigmatic love) are passengers on a packet ship from Nova Scotia to England when two American privateers give chase. They are hunting Maturin, who has compromised U.S. spy networks. The Americans are eluded, and upon reaching England, Maturin sets off to France. Armed with safe conduct papers, he lectures on natural history and installs Villiers in Paris. Suspicious French agents try to bait Maturin but he refuses to be lured into an indiscretion. On his return to London, Maturin is sent to woo Catalan officers and troops from the French cause to the British. Aubrey provides transport, but despite his best support, including staging a splendid charade chase on the water, the mission takes a nasty turn when their ship founders; seized by the French, Maturin and Aubrey are hauled off to Paris's infamous Temple Prison.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

This time out, Captain Jack Aubrey and ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin limp home from America for a brief rest before sailing to the Baltic to subvert the occupying Catalan troops--and then to the Bay of Biscay to run aground. The dashing Aubrey/Maturin naval tales (among others, The Ionian Mission--see above) continue to come out in intervals from England, where they are hugely and deservedly popular. Published some years ago in the UK, they've been arriving out of order, so readers find themselves sorting out prequels from sequels. But shipping arrangements do no damage to these polished, historically accurate, and intensely pleasurable tales of the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic era. Anglo-Iberian physician and spy Stephen Maturin is again the linchpin, providing the excuse for his dashing friend Aubrey to flee the mess he has made of his British investments. Aboard H.M.S Ariel, Aubrey transports Maturin to the Baltic, where the doctor will use his linguistic skills and impeccable Catalan separatist credentials to convince Spanish troops holding Baltic islands for Napoleon that they should desert the Corsican monster and throw their lot in with England. The Baltic mission is successful, but the subsequent flight from Scandinavia runs into the rocks off the French coast. The officers are taken prisoner and transported to Paris, where they dine handsomely on meals cooked by a pretty widow as they await execution. Splendid escape. Literate and amusing. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Aubrey/Maturin (Book 7)
  • Paperback: 382 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (January 17, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393308200
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393308204
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L. Alper on September 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
In "The Surgeon's Mate", as the title suggests, Stephen Maturin is the main protagonist. Although of course Jack Aubrey is always present to help Maturin accomplish his goals, most of the action revolves around intelligence activities.
The book opens right where the previous "The Fortune of War" ended. Maturin & Aubrey sail into Halifax Canada as conquering warriors & are much acclaimed by the locals (with some humorous entanglements for Aubrey). Soon, tho, we are back at sea, being pursued by privateers paid to kill Maturin. From this point on there is almost constant action, for Maturin has new intelligence assignments as well as unfinished business with the French. Meanwhile, his personal life continues rocky due to Diana Villiers presence. Of course, all will end happily as Patrick O'Brian lets you know by his choice of titles.
It is hard to critically discuss "The Surgeon's Mate" as a stand-alone novel, since so much of it is a continuation of plots begun in "The Fortune of War". It is complex, exciting, & definitely not the best choice as your introduction to the Aubrey/Maturin series. At the very least, read "The Fortune of War" before embarking upon this particular voyage. You will enjoy all the more for having done so!
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Format: Paperback
Jack Aubrey may be resigned to the perils of his profession, but Stephen must now be silently wondering if maybe he and Jack are the men who never return.
Indeed, this story began two volumes ago, in "Desolation Island", where it looked like they might have "copped it" in the horrible old Leopard.
Then the next story, The Fortune of War, begins with the Leopard limping into a British port off the Malay Peninsula, where after being treated handsomely they board the fast-sailing packet ship La Fletch for England (at last) where Jack is to take command of a new frigate.
But the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune say nay, for their ship burns and sinks, leaving them on the open ocean in a ship's boat whose sails had been stolen and sold by a corrupt boatswain. After many brutal, parched, sunburned days in the lifeboat terror strikes once more when a ship within hailing distance fails to see them and sails on.
As they appear about to succumb to the elements, however, they are rescued by HMS Java. Just as they are recovering from the debilitating ordeal in the lifeboat, Java engages the American ship Constitution (it's the War of 1812), loses the battle, and Aubrey and Maturin find themselves prisoners of war in Boston.
There they discover they are very special prisoners, for Aubrey or Maturin -- or both -- are suspected of being more than a captain and his ship's surgeon. They escape this peril by sailing a little sloop out of Boston harbor into the open sea where they meet and are taken aboard the blockading HMS Shannon. With them is the love of Stephen's life, Diana Villiers, who was in Boston due to entirely credible circumstances, and whose fervent desire to leave with them is equally credible.
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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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Format: Paperback
The Surgeon's Mate picks up where The Fortune of War left off. In the previous installment our boys had escaped from Boston just in time to participate in the epic battle between the Chesapeake and the Shannon. Victorious they arrive in Halifax and more trouble begins. Aubrey's lack of land sense and Maturin's unrequited love for Diana continue to cause them problems. In fact they are the underlying tensions that follow them through each episode in the novel. Along the way we are treated to O'Brian's philosophical discussions between his two quirky heroes and among their assorted friends and associates. Like the others in the series The Surgeon's Mate is a gem.
Unlike earlier novels the action in The Surgeon's Mate is non-stop. O'Brian, always excellent in his characterization and use of language, has considerably improved the pacing from the earliest series entries. The reader is treated to the heroes travelling from Halifax to England to the Baltic to Paris and back to England in a rousing tour-de-force. Does O'Brian lose anything with the faster pace of The Surgeon's Mate? Absolutely not, he still has the strengths of the earlier books.
One aspect of the series that has made it great is the ability of O'Brian to set some of the thorny discussions of our times in the context of the early 19th century. In The Surgeon's Mate, the abortion issue creates a marvelous balanced tension. O'Brian's presentation is even handed, airing both sides of the debate but ultimately not choosing sides. O'Brian has moderated some of the great debates of the last 30 years in his Aubrey Maturin series while providing great naval action along the way.
Perhaps it's time to put O'Brian's novels in a special category- six stars.
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