Master & Commander by Patrick O’Brian is the first in a series of twenty books that is well regarded as the best nautical literature ever written (if not some of the best literature ever written). I picked up the first in the series, Master & Commander, on my way to Cape Cod for a two week vacation. It took me the full two weeks to read the book, partly because I found that I could not completely get into the story with as much fervour as I had expected. What I did not realize when I started reading was that the first book is as much about introducing us to Jack Aubrey, newly appointed to rank of Captain, and Stephen Maturin, an erudite Irishman/Catalonian who becomes the surgeon on Jack’s ship, the Sophie, as it is about telling us the story.
The first third of the book consists of establishing their characters and ensuing relationship, along with an esoteric introduction to the Sophie and all of her crew, rigging, sails, decks, etc. Once Jack’s cruise gets underway we quickly come to realize that he is an extremely able seaman: strategic, fearless, and cunning. He is also in it for the money, much to the chagrin of his Lieutenant, James Dillon, another Irishman and once-member of a resistance group (along with Stephen Maturin). The second third of the book follows Jack on his cruise as he takes several French and Spanish ‘prizes’ during various battles, and earns himself and his crew quite a bit of cash and a reputation for being lucky. Along the way Jack continues to have an affair with a woman married to his superior, who, by the final third of the book, has taken out his anger on Jack by cutting his cruise short and relegating him to convoy. Along the way he is beaten in battle, and the close of the book is the court-martial where Jack is found not-guilty of any wrong doing.
Perhaps it is because I was expecting so much in the way of non-stop action and adventure that I was somewhat disappointed by my first Patrick O’Brian experience. However, I am not giving up, as I have been told that the books only get better and more exciting, and there is no way that a 20-book series as beloved as this can disappoint.
MY RATING: 6/10 (but mostly due to raised expectations)