Number two in the Aubrey-Maturin series. No sophomore slump here; O’Brian’s a master with this historical sea novel. That’s not to say that O’Brian’s method isn’t strange. I’m not sure, but I believe that he is consciously imitating a novelistic style used in the 19th century. Of course there’s the letters, which accurately depict the style of that time’s correspondence, but the stylistic differences are in the descriptive text, things like strange jumps in time and character. Maybe it’s a British mode of expression, for two writers who do similar “jumps” that come to my mind are Gwyneth Jones and Mary Gentle. O’Brian’s speed is also slightly off–he rushes through great battle scenes that one expects to be the climatic portions of the book, then leisurely strolls through descriptions of teas and late night discussions by the fire. Could it be that I’m yearning for more “adventure” and less “character”?

It is the character studies of Aubrey and Maturin that fuel the book. What happens to Jack Aubrey is important, yes, but it is how he reacts to it and how Stephen Maturin reacts to his reaction, etc., that makes these books so appealing. If I seem to yearn for more adventure, perhaps it is simply that while I enjoy what O’Brian is showing me with his characters, that I still long for the thrill of a well-told battle or escape from the enclosing walls of a conspiracy. For as much as a character novel this is, it is the historical verissimilitude and the intrigue of the day that interests a modern reader.

In short, they complement each other, and in this volume I felt a little extra weight over in the character side of the scale.

[Finished 1 January 1995]


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