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The Letter of Marque Paperback – 1992


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393309053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393309058
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.2 x 2.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,208,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on Dec 21 1997
Format: Paperback
The Letter of Marque (the entire series for that matter) goes so far beyond the swashbuckling cliche as to make the comparison irrelevant. O'Brian's ability to evoke a place, an era, an age is to my mind unprecedented. The series is actually so many chapters of one great work that will hook you completey, and leave you in awe of the mind that contained them.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just could not put this book down. I have ordered the next 2 in the series. I am awaiting the mail.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 64 reviews
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Joint Review of All Aubrey-Maturin Books Oct. 26 2003
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Some critics have referred to the Aubrey/Maturin books as one long novel united not only by their historical setting but also by the central plot element of the Aubrey/Maturin friendship. Having read these fine books over a period of several years, I decided to evaluate their cumulative integrity by reading them consecutively in order of publication over a period of a few weeks. This turned out to be a rewarding enterprise. For readers unfamiliar with these books, they describe the experiences of a Royal Navy officer and his close friend and traveling companion, a naval surgeon. The experiences cover a broad swath of the Napoleonic Wars and virtually the whole globe.
Rereading all the books confirmed that O'Brian is a superb writer and that his ability to evoke the past is outstanding. O'Brian has numerous gifts as a writer. He is the master of the long, careful description, and the short, telling episode. His ability to construct ingenious but creditable plots is first-rate, probably because he based much of the action of his books on actual events. For example, some of the episodes of Jack Aubrey's career are based on the life of the famous frigate captain, Lord Cochrane. O'Brian excels also in his depiction of characters. His ability to develop psychologically creditable characters through a combination of dialogue, comments by other characters, and description is tremendous. O'Brien's interest in psychology went well beyond normal character development, some books contain excellent case studies of anxiety, depression, and mania.
Reading O'Brien gives vivid view of the early 19th century. The historian Bernard Bailyn, writing of colonial America, stated once that the 18th century world was not only pre-industrial but also pre-humanitarian (paraphrase). This is true as well for the early 19th century depicted by O'Brien. The casual and invariable presence of violence, brutality, and death is a theme running through all the books. The constant threats to life are the product not only of natural forces beyond human control, particularly the weather and disease, but also of relative human indifference to suffering. There is nothing particularly romantic about the world O'Brien describes but it also a certain grim grandeur. O'Brien also shows the somewhat transitional nature of the early 19th century. The British Navy and its vessals were the apogee of what could be achieved by pre-industrial technology. This is true both of the technology itself and the social organization needed to produce and use the massive sailing vessals. Aubrey's navy is an organization reflecting its society; an order based on deference, rigid hierarchy, primitive notions of honor, favoritism, and very, very corrupt. At the same time, it was one of the largest and most effective bureaucracies in human history to that time. The nature of service exacted great penalities for failure in a particularly environment, and great success was rewarded greatly. In some ways, it was a ruthless meritocracy whose structure and success anticipates the great expansion of government power and capacity seen in the rest of the 19th century.
O'Brian is also the great writer about male friendship. There are important female characters in these books but since most of the action takes place at sea, male characters predominate. The friendship between Aubrey and Maturin is the central armature of the books and is a brilliant creation. The position of women in these books is ambiguous. There are sympathetic characters, notably Aubrey's long suffering wife. Other women figures, notably Maturin's wife, leave a less positive impression. On board ship, women tend to have a disruptive, even malign influence.
How did O'Brian manage to sustain his achievement over 20 books? Beyond his technical abilities as a writer and the instrinsic interest of the subject, O'Brien made a series of very intelligent choices. He has not one but two major protagonists. The contrasting but equally interesting figures of Aubrey and Maturin allowed O'Brien to a particularly rich opportunity to expose different facets of character development and to vary plots carefully. This is quite difficult and I'm not aware of any other writer who has been able to accomplish such sustained development of two major protagonists for such a prolonged period. O'Brian's use of his historical setting is very creative. The scenes and events in the books literally span the whole globe as Aubrey and Maturin encounter numerous cultures and societies. The naval setting allowed him also to introduce numerous new and interesting characters. O'Brian was able to make his stories attractive to many audiences. Several of these stories can be enjoyed as psychological novels, as adventure stories, as suspense novels, and even one as a legal thriller. O'Brian was also a very funny writer, successful at both broad, low humor, and sophisticated wit. Finally, O'Brian made efforts to link some of the books together. While a number are complete in themselves, others form components of extended, multi-book narratives. Desolation Island, Fortune of War, and The Surgeon's Mate are one such grouping. Treason's Harbor, The Far Side of the World, and The Reverse of the Medal are another. The Letter of Marque and the ensuing 4 books, centered around a circumnavigation, are another.
Though the average quality of the books is remarkably high, some are better than others. I suspect that different readers will have different favorites. I personally prefer some of the books with greater psychological elements. The first book, Master and Commander, is one of my favorites. The last 2 or 3, while good, are not as strong as earlier books. I suspect O'Brian's stream of invention was beginning to diminish. All can be read profitably as stand alone works though there is definitely something to be gained by reading in consecutive order.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Reversal of Fortunes March 3 2002
By Richard R - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Stephen Maturin once noted that Aristotle's definition of tragedy encompassed not only a great man being brought down but also the redemption and raising up of a man who had been laid low. Fortunes can reverse in many ways, and Aristotle recognized the literary and moral value of each.
In the twelfth of Patrick O'Brian's wonderful series of twenty naval adventures, a combination of luck, adherence to honor, and determination turn Jack Aubrey's fortunes. The HMS Surprise is sold out of the service - to Maturin, whose intelligence activities continue in Britain and promise a voyage to South America. First, though, Aubrey undertakes two voyages as a privateer, under a "letter of marque", which combined with Maturin's unmasking of a spy, restore his reputation. Maturin's private reputation has similarly suffered from false gossip about his doings in Malta (in "Treason's Harbour"), and he must similarly seek redemption in a typically private way. So, Maturin travels to Sweden to reconcile with his wife. This gives occasion for the reappearance of the Blue Peter diamond, and further exploration of Maturin's complicated relationship with Diana.
"The Letter of Marque" closes the book on many of setbacks that Aubrey and Maturin suffered recently, leaving them reunited, restored, and with their decks otherwise cleared for action in succeeding volumes. As always, O'Brian's writing is intelligent, informed, and full of wonderful historical nuance.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
O'Brian returns to high form! Dec 20 2002
By Michael K. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Frankly, I didn't have very high expectations for this twelfth installment in the saga of Capt. Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin; turning the Surprise into a privateer seemed to be merely scrambling for a plot twist. But, however (as they say), I was mistaken. O'Brian takes the opportunity to point up the significant social and operational differences between the national and private man-of-war, the superior attitudes of the "real" navy toward those not in blue and gold uniform, and the real advantages sometimes enjoyed by the privately financed operation. And he sensitively explores Jack's deep depression at being separated from the service. Moreover, we all know Jack's estrangement, the result of his engineered conviction on trumped-up charges of rigging the stock market, cannot last. And, indeed, his sobriquet of "Lucky Jack" comes to the fore as his first cruise, intended only as a two-week shakedown exercise in preparation for a surreptitiously government-backed diplomatic and intelligence-gathering expedition to the Pacific coast of South America, quickly turns into a triumphant procession of Franco-American prizes back to Plymouth. There are also several interesting sub-plots, including Stephen's reconciliation with his departed wife, Diana, and his gradual but unintentional weaning from his extreme opium habit via his Irish servant. I'm pleased to recommend this yarn as one of the best in the mid-part of this series. (But if you haven't read the previous four or five, you'll have no idea of what's going on.)
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
In which the fortunes of our heroes improve in every way Feb. 24 2005
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In THE LETTER OF MARQUE, Patrick O'Brian manages another exceptional entry into what is arguably the finest long series of novels in English of the twentieth century. As many have noted, these novels are simply unsurpassed for their combination of literary quality, historical veracity, dramatic tension, and narrative excellence. This particular volume also has more action than any in the series in a long while. It is also quite possibly the most upbeat in the series up to this point. My own theory is that O'Brian conceived both the previous novel, THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL, and this one as companions. The former takes the fortunes of our heroes Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin to exceedingly low points; in fact, things never got so bad for Jack Aubrey as they did in that one. In this novel, however, a world of troubles comes to an end. Whereas at the end of THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL Jack was publicly shamed by having been taken off the naval lists and stripped of his rank, by the end of THE LETTER OF MARQUE he knows that he will be restored with seniority to the Royal Navy within a few months. Whereas before Jack's financial affairs were in dismal shape, now he is wealthier than he has ever been, thanks to two extraordinary successes commanding the letter of marque (i.e., privateer) Surprise, lately of the King's Navy as the H.M.S. Surprise. And while his sham trial and conviction wasn't able to tarnish his reputation as completely as his father's political enemies had hoped, he nonetheless had seen better days in the public eye. Now, however, thanks to his great naval victories as a privateer, he had become something of a popular hero. Although Stephen's affairs were not nearly so bad in the previous novel-he had, after all, inherited a very large amount of money, so that he was now a very wealthy man, wealthy enough to purchase and outfit with ease Surprise as a privateer-he still suffered quietly over the departure of his often wayward wife Lady Diana Villiers. The end of the novel finds Stephen and Villiers reconciled, and each knowing that the other had actually been far more faithful to one another than either had a right to suspect.

The novel is largely built around three incidents. First, there is the first sailing of Surprise as a letter of marque (the arcane yet preferred designation of what most would call a privateer) in which she not only captures an American privateer, but several of its prizes, including a ship carrying an entire cargo of quicksilver (literally worth its weight in gold). Although it does not suffice to negate the anguish of no longer being in the Royal Navy, this action alone would have seemed to permanently taken care of Jack's often beleaguered finances. The second incident is Jack's action in cutting out of a French port the French frigate Diane (later to be Jack's ship in the Royal Navy upon his reinstatement), an act that shifts the general public opinion in favor of Jack's reinstatement, though the decisive step in that direction will prove to be the death of his father and Jack's taking the seat in parliament vacated by him. The final section of the book is devoted to Stephen's trek to Stockholm in an effort to reconcile with his wife, who mistakenly thinks that Stephen not only had an affair with another woman in the Mediterranean but publicly flaunted it, and who then fled to Stockholm with another man whom Stephen mistakenly imagines was her lover. A subplot running through the novel is the gradual dilution of Stephen's opium by his servant, who each night steals a bit of it and replaces what he had taken with brandy. The effect was that Stephen gradually lessened the amount of opium he was taking, so that when he arrived in Stockholm and bought an undiluted bottle, then taking what he imagined was his usual dose, he went into an opium coma.

Although most of O'Brian's novels have no especially clear beginning or end, this one does have a somewhat more self-contained story than most in the series. There is some overlap, of course, and a host of old, well-known characters to whom we are reintroduced. What I am amazed by in these novels, apart from their remarkable excellence, is their consistency. Some of the novels are better than others, but single novels is not really the right way to view them. This is a series, and the truth is that the only way to judge it is as a group of books. By this standard this is one of the most unique literary achievements of the past century. This is a series that pulls in both lovers of historical fiction as well as very serious readers more at home with George Eliot and Vladimir Nabokov, a claim that could never conceivably be made, say, about C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series, which attracts virtually no serious readers at all.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Lucky Jack Aubrey's Reversal of Fortune May 19 2004
By John Kwok - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Jack Aubrey has been drummed out of the service, removed from the post-captain's list and the possibility of hoisting his flag one day as a rear admiral commanding a squadron. Stephen Maturin buys HMS Surprise and has her outfitted as a privateer under Aubrey's command, with a letter of marque attesting to her status as a private warship still in service to Her Britannic Majesty's government. During a shakedown cruise, Surprise overtakes and captures a French privateer, the more heavily armed Spartan, and then, in a clever bit of subterfuge, seizes the privateer's prizes too. It is a brilliant action which strongly resembles Aubrey's amazing seizure of the Spanish xebec frigate chronicled in Patrick O'Brian's "Master and Commander". Once more he is hailed in England as "Lucky Jack" Aubrey. Next Aubrey leads a daring nighttime raid on a French English Channel port, cutting out the newly built French frigate Diane, counting on the assistance of his former subordinate William Babbington, now the commander - and soon to be - post-captain of a sloop. Meanwhile Maturin finally frees himself of his opium addiction and joins Aubrey in a voyage to Sweden, ultimately reuniting with his estranged wife Diana Villiers. And Aubrey learns that he will soon be restored to the post-captain's list, after receiving an unexpected political legacy from an elderly cousin. This splendid novel is among the most suspenseful in the Aubrey/Maturin series, replete with O'Brian's brilliant lyrical prose and astute attention to detail. Without question it is among O'Brian's best.

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