I finally finished going through the 21 books of the Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. Rather a bittersweet moment in that it is nice to finally finish it and sad that this is it. The last book simply called 21 contained only three chapters as the author died writing the follow up to “Blue at the Mizzen.”
This series follows Jack Aubrey an naval officer during the Napoleonic wars and his friend Stephen Maturin. While I do enjoy naval historic fiction, this series transcends that. Mostly it is a story of friendship and one that really follows a friendship as they navigate around each others interests and quirks. These two men are quite different in temperament and interests.
Stephen Maturin is a physician, naturalist and spy and their accidental meeting which sets off their friendship leads to much of the suspense of the series. Maturin work as a spy combine with Aubrey naval career sets up the naval battles you would expect along with actions ashore.
As you would expect we follow the career of Aubrey as a “Master and Commander” as detailed in the first book of the same name to Captain and beyond. Jack Aubrey is the brilliant tactician with an interest in mathematics and you would expect the arc of successful naval battles and steady advancement. Though this is not quite the arc of the book in that often things do not go as expected and you follow the ebb and flow of his career along with the doctor’s. In fact it is quite maddening at times as you become so invested in the characters that you feel every disappointment. Of course a historical novel following a fictional naval hero has limits and can’t transcend into really ahistorical events.
The great thing about the series is that it is not just for people interested in naval historical fiction. Sure you have a lot to wade through all the descriptions of types of sails, masts, and naval terms. This is as you would expect. There there is Stephen Maturin unquenchable thirst for knowledge as a naturalist and doctor. The research that went into these novels was surely massive, but it doesn’t really intrude where you see the seams of the stage that events are played on.
There are even some Catholic elements to the story. Stephen Maturin is a Catholic and that sometimes enters the story especially considering the penal laws still in effect in England at the time.
No doubt this series is not to every bodies tastes, but it certainly is not narrow genre fiction and certainly an amazing literary accomplishment.