Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin Series

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.

About Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is a former atheist who after spending forty years in the wilderness finds himself with both astonishment and joy a member of the Catholic Church. A retired Navy Chief who now makes his living as an application developer.

  • Lisa

    I agree, it is a great series. Though, I confess, I’ve never read one of them. But I’ve listened to at least 15 or 16 of them as the old books-on-tape. A favorite when I had long commutes. Great stories and the nautical terms flow naturally when read by a competent reader.

  • http://foothills.wjduquette.com/blog Will Duquette

    These are among my favorite books. Something it took me a while to notice: the books can be read on two levels. First, they are outstanding nautical romances: thrilling stories, well-told, with Jack and Stephen as the main characters. But each book is also a true novel: and the main character of the novel is not always Jack and Stephen (even if they are the viewpoint characters), and the main action of the novel is not always Jack and Stephen’s adventures. The reason that it matters, and why I began to look for the novel hidden within the romance, is that it’s the novel that determines the break between one book and the next. In one book, for example, they end the book stranded on an island in the South Seas. It’s a cliffhanger; and yet if you look for the novel within, it’s not, it ends right where it needs to. It’s fascinating.

  • lethargic

    Some of my favorite books and I keep this set when I give away most other books. I never read the unfinished chapters and don’t intend to. For me, the series ends just as Aubrey gets his promotion to Admiral and goes haring off after Napoleon again … perfect ending for the series!

    • willduquette

      I agree. The three chapters of the unfinished book would just leave me unsatisfied.

      O’Brian also wrote two nautical tales that took placed about 1750, if I recall correctly: The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore. I enjoyed them both quite a bit; if you’ve not read them, you might want to look for them.


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