HMS Surprise, by Patrick O’Brian

by Peter on December 27, 2010

This is the third book in Patrick O’Brian’s fabulous Aubrey/Maturin series of novels about the British Navy and Jack Aubrey & Steven Maturin during the early 19th Century. Captain Jack Aubrey, now a post captain,HMS Surprise, by Patrick O'Brian is temporarily in command of the large frigate HMS Lively. Political machinations have cost Jack some prize money he has won. He is now tasked with running a blockade, and he is bored, broke, and trying to find a way to find enough money to marry his sweetheart, Sophie Williams.

Following this blockade service, Jack – partly because of Steven – is given command of the aged frigate H.M.S. Surprise, and is sent to Cambodia to deliver the new British envoy to the Sultan of Kampong. Thus he embarks on a long, wonderful voyage to the Orient and back. Along the way he is hit by heavy storm while rounding Cape Horn. And there Jack is forced to fight the Atlantic at its very fiercest. As well we follow an amazing act of surgery performed by Stephen Maturin and take part in lots of naval action.

The final battle pits “Lucky” Jack Aubrey and his Surprise against against far superior French forces.

HMS Surprise has a rich, very interesting plot. Also, the ongoing development of the characters of Jack and Stephen, and of their complex and fully described friendship, continues to be a major achievement by Patrick O’Brian. As well, the many minor characters are fascinating: the envoy Mr. Stanhope, Stephen’s Indian friend, the various ship’s officers and men, other ship captains, and so on. O’Brian is great writer of prose – with a faintly old-fashioned style and a well developed sense of humor and irony – who skillfully evokes the atmosphere of the time of which he writes. HMS Surprise is a wonderful and very enjoyable read. For lovers of nautical fiction it is a must!

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