Friday, March 25, 2011

HMS Surprise

By Patrick O'Brian

'HMS Surprise' continues the story begun in 'Post Captain', and rounds off the initial introduction phase of the Aubrey/Maturin series. From this book onwards all the primary characters and supporting cast (including Capt Aubrey's favourite ship) have been established and over the next ten or so novels O'Brian explores a range of ideas. 'HMS Surprise' however, though shorter than 'Post Captain', moves faster, but with the same depth of detail and style.

The Mauritius Command

By Patrick O'Brian

With this novel, O'Brian sets out on a literary campaign almost as insurmountable as the military campaign it attempts to describe, and as a consequence, I think O'Brian stumbles for the first time. That isn't to say the book isn't good, it is, but the story rambles so much that it becomes quite hard to keep a track of who where and why and what for. Jack and Stephen are sent to South Africa to launch a campaign against two French held islands in the Southern Indian Ocean, with Jack appointed as a Commodore over a squadron of frigates for the duration of the mission. Ranged against them are several big flashy French frigates, but as the story progresses, both sides lose and gain ships with such rapidity, that its often impossible to remember which ship is which. With Jack absent half the time and Stephen observing the bitter and ill fated adventures of one of Jack's rivals in the service, a lot of the time this novel strikes me a an attempt to recapture something of 'Master and Commander', only on a far grander scale. The only problem is, the novel is too short, and the whole thing comes off badly, even though the premise of the story, and even the story itself is interesting enough.

Desolation Island

By Patrick O'Brian

Back on form with a vengeance, O'Brian dissolves much of Jack and Stephen's previous gains in a run of terrible luck for the two friends. Jack Aubrey is appointed Captain of the 50 gun Leopard and ordered to go to Australia to deal with Captain Bligh (he of HMS Bounty) but to his disgust he must also take a group of convicts with him. Jack is about to refuse but Stephen Maturin persuades him otherwise for one of the convicts is an American agent and Stephen is tasked to investigate her.

Alas, nothing goes well for the unlucky Leopard and after a series of near catastrophic events the Leopard and her dimished crew find themselves stranded on an island so desolate, its very name is desolation.

This is a darker, bleaker story than any of the preceding novels, but it works well regardless. Events in the book take place with a steady even pace and the characters have time to develop and evolve as events unfold.

The Fortune of War

By Patrick O'Brian

This novel is a direct continuation of 'Desolation Island', but now there is an even stronger American flavour to the story, for Jack and Stephen find themselves caught up in the events of the War of 1812, with Stephen's actions in the previous book bringing dire peril almost upon them. Taken prisoner by the Americans, it takes all of their skill and courage, and not a little of O'Brian's wit, to make their escape.

In many ways this novel is even darker than the previous one, not least for Stephen, but its slightly hampered by the amazing coincidences O'Brian must manufacture to squeeze in as much history as possible and this is rather unusual for the series, as in all the other novels, history is not quite to the fore as it is in 'The Fortune of War'. Another minus is the lack of anything much to do for Jack, who is relagated to the passive role of a man injured in battle, for the second novel running.

1 comment:

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

You've been busy! This reminds me - I must carry on where I left off... next one for me is "The Commodore" (#17)