“Master and Commander” is the first book in the twenty volume Aubrey-Maturin series. It is in this volume that we are first introduced to Jack Aubrey, a newly made captain in the British Navy. He is still a young man and eager for his first command. Aubrey is given command on the H.M.S. Sophie, a much slower ship than Jack had hoped for. Early in the novel Jack Aubrey meets Stephen Maturin, a surgeon. They meet at a small concert at a party when Maturin elbows Aubrey in the ribs because Jack was unconsciously conducting the music along with the conductor, and thus annoying Maturin. Somehow a friendship begins and Jack asks Maturin to join him on the Sophie as the ship’s surgeon. As Maturn is struggling financially and genuinely likes Jack, he accepts. This begins a great friendship as well as the story of this novel.
“Master and Commander” does not have a plot, in the traditional sense. It is an in-depth look at life in the British Navy and what life at sea is like, both for the common sailor, but mostly for the Captain. Patrick O’Brian takes the reader from naval battle to naval battle, through numerous pages on the art of sailing and loads the book up with nautical detail. There is an incredible level of realism to “Master and Commander” and the story is well told.
There are two ways that this book can be read. The first is for those with a love of the nautical detail (or those who want to immerse themselves into that level of detail). The language and detail can be savored, and I’m sure this is what O’Brian intended with the historical accuracy and all the effort that went into creating this novel. The second way to read this book is for the average reader and this allows for a little bit of skimming and not trying to grasp and fully understand every little detail. The second reader will probably enjoy the book more this way than should he (or she) try to force through all the detail. Little, if any, of the story will be missed this way, but it makes the novel easier to digest. The nautical detail is very heavy and the novel moves at a very slow (though still interesting) pace.