on October 22, 2002
This is the second in the Aubrey-Maturin series and it's a far more broadly painted picture than the first; also, a great deal more of the action takes place ashore. Jack finds himself out of a command due to the peace, but having come into a large sum of prize money, he rents a country place and takes up riding to hounds. He also meets Sophie and her family, and the Doctor meets Sophie's cousin, Diana. Relationships become interestingly complicated, but then Jack's prize agent defaults and two of his prizes are ruled invalid, and he suddenly finds himself deep in debt. The two go abroad to escape a debt judgment and they're visiting Spain when war breaks out again. After a period disguised as a trained bear accompanying its trainer, they reach Gibralter and take ship, only to be captured. And so it goes, with Maturin having taken up his additional avocation by this time as an intelligence agent for the Admiralty. In fact, his connections are about the only thing that keeps Jack in his series of commands against the competition, and after a particularly gallant action, he finally gets made post. All in all, this is a far more interesting book, with a great deal more character development, than the first book. Young Sophia is especially nicely drawn, and Jack himself (as Stephen notes) has begun to mature in important ways. In fact, my only complaint is in respect to the wretched cover illustration in the original hardcover edition!
on May 3, 2002
This second book in the Aubrey-Maturin series is, like all of the others, an absolute delight. O'Brian does his usual astonishing job of transporting us to an imagined early-19th century world, interesting in large part because it is in some basic ways quite unlike ours, yet peopled by richly-drawn characters who experience emotions intensely familiar.
For the fanatic O'Brian fan (I am one) this book is especially interesting to re-read, since several of the dimensions of the characters, especially Maturin, are slightly at odds with later versions. For example, in one diary passage, Maturin waxes eloquent (and accurate) about the specific arrangement of sails as a convoy weighs anchor -- something he would never do in the later books, when he has become hopelessly ignorant about all things nautical.
These books are in the rare category of those classics that are a page-turning excitement to read when first encountered, and remain similarly exciting if read again and again, constantly revealing new subtleties of character and incident.
One of the great things about the books is O'Brian's periodic indirect explanation of certain expressions that have passed into the vernacular, and are used in contexts far removed from their nautical roots -- for example, "the devil to pay" or "we were at loggerheads", or...I've forgotten the rest. I guess I'll have to read the books again, and so should you.
I was sucked into the Aubrey/Maturin series after reading "Post Captain", discovering the virtues of O'Brian's prose and his fictional rendering of the Napoleonic wars nearly a year and a half before it became popular here in the United States. This is truly the novel where the celebrated Aubrey/Maturin friendship takes off, whereby Maturin shows that he is Sherlock Holmes to Aubrey's Doctor Watson (Or perhaps, for a more contemporary analogy, Spock as opposed to Captain Kirk.). Maturin comes across as an elegant, erudite spy, working on behalf of Sir Joseph Banks, the chief of British naval intelligence. Meanwhile Aubrey finds himself in a debtor's prison in France and escapes just as Western Europe plunges into war again. Eventually he will find himself rewarded with a promotion to Post Captain and a new ship command. Once more O'Brian's elegant, descriptive prose shows a unique side of British life not shown in prior naval fiction series; indeed, it is truly his homage to Jane Austen's fiction.
on March 20, 2002
I must begin by confessing my undying love of all things Patrick O'Brianesque. I have read and reread his books, working my way through his canon from beginning to end and taking solitary excursions via audiobooks as the fit takes me.
It is nothing for me to turn up at work after listening to a chapter or two, my words all antique, my phraseology rolling like the ocean, and my heart full of good cheer.
This second book of "the Aubreyad" is the most like Jane Austen's genteel tales of manners in the England of two centuries past. There are grand houses, elderly admirals, single young naval officers possessed of fortunes, and delightful young ladies. Romance is in the air before the book is fairly begun.
And yet there is another side, or rather sides. War and battle and financial problems interfere with the grand pursuit of love. Humour is everpresent, in the language, characters, settings and ships. The incompetent footpad who writes out an incredible recruiting poster. The scene with the bear. The verbal abuse in the middle of a battle of a sweet young lady disguised as a ship's boy.
It is also a complex maze of relationships. We do not meet Molly Harte again, but we encounter her cuckolded husband and his hatred of Jack Aubrey. The wonderful Diana Villiers makes her first appearance in these pages, eventually resulting in a severe quarrel between Captain Jack and his "particular friend" Stephen Maturin. Sir Joseph Blaine, the master of British Naval Intelligence and a rare collector of beetles plays a discreet game in the bureaucratic corridors of the Admiralty.
And there is action a-plenty at sea. Battles and chases, rigging and running, storms and ships.
Just open the book and you will be part of the crew.
on March 10, 2002
Read this book very carefully, especially if you are committed to reading all 20 volumes. IMHO, it is the best book of the series. In book one ("Master and Commander"), I assumed that Maturin was a minor character who would not appear again. I thought he was a gay geek, and that his mysterious, solitary, on-shore expedition was of a carnal nature; little did I realize the true nature of either Maturin or the trip.
This second book focuses on developing the Maturin character as a spy; a sophisticated man of wealth, background, and education; a lifelong drug addict; and a nerdy womanizer - sort of an 19th century cross between James Bond and Bill Gates.
Chapter 4 is the most bizarre chapter in the entire series. I am still going on the assumption that the escape-across-France-in-a-bear-costume was really just another opium vision of Maturin's.
The books that follow this one vary greatly in quality of plot; some are excellent, some seem to be virtually plotless narratives, but all are worth reading. Still, book 2 stands head and shoulders above all the rest.
on September 24, 2001
About a third of the way through Post Captain, I began to grow a little impatient. "Why can't Aubrey and Maturin get to sea again," I wondered. "All this gallivanting around, dodging bill collectors, competing for the affections of rose-cheeked English lasses - it wears on one." But after reading about the press gangs, the foxes and hounds, the merchant class and their conduct at parties, it became clear that O'Brian had widened his narrative scope. No longer would this series be merely about two men and their friendship aboard a fighting ship; the author couldn't be content with reproducing the prior success of "Master and Commander."
And in fact, one gains a rich and carefully-crafted vision of the times and the customs of 1803 England, just before and after the breaking of the Peace of Amiens. Though the novel is imbued with history, you needn't refer to a textbook if your recall is rusty - O'Brian takes you there, he shows rather than tells, and in the end you'll feel like you'd lived through the historical moment in question, along with the good Captain and his faithful Doctor. A very pleasant way to take your history.
I especially liked the part where Aubrey finds a dermoid, carefully concealed in Maturin's pistol holster! What a character!
on May 2, 2001
A richer and more textured novel than Master and Commander, Post Captain relies less on the curiosities of British Naval trivia and more on personalities and human interactions. There is a wider range of characters and less focus on shipboard banter and swashbuckling. The single shortcoming I can identify is that a few characters have a wooden quality. In particular, those that O'Brian has marked as negative. This is far from fatal, merely a bit tiresome. By and large, O'Brian offers a stirring vision of maritime England during the Napoleonic Wars, one that has the aura of authenticity.
Unlike the first Aubrey/Maturin work, which concentrated almost exclusively on the sea and port life, Post Captain is better paced. When the major naval engagement takes place well over halfway through the book, the reader has been carefully set up for the dramatic change in rhythm. After hundreds of pages that dwelled increasing upon the human flaws of a declining Jack Aubrey, I found myself quite moved by the gripping depiction of heroism and personal recovery in the face of bad luck and poor judgement; a metaphor for real life. We can see in Jack Aubrey's fearless and selfless behavior under stress what we would like to believe lies hidden within ourselves, waiting for the opportunity, perhaps in a crisis situation, where we can, in flash, redeem all our past weakness and failure.
I look forward to many more in the series.
on November 26, 2000
"Post Captain", unlike most sequels, far exceeds it's predecessor. For one thing, the character of the doctor takes shape; some of his mysterious history is revealed, and he plays a crucial part in the action. We come to respect his evident brilliance as his work behind the scenes, in love and in war, moves much of the story.
In addition, there is a lot more humor and I actually laughed out loud at some of the jokes. I understood them, a big improvement in either my reading abilities or the narrative. Jack is revealed to be a very poor punster, and some of his puns are so stupid as to be quite funny.
The friendship between the two men is much more central in this book than in the first. Like Sherlock Holmes and Watson one is smart and the other not, but the authority figure is reversed. It makes for a very interesting relationship, though not entirely unique in literature. (Stretching the point, I think that I have seen a similar relationship on Star Trek with Spock and Captain Kirk!)
I liked this book well enough to recommend it to anyone. I would give it a 3.75 on a 5-star scale.
on August 5, 2000
I made a serious mistake when I first read the Aubrey/Maturin books: I read them out of sequence. Thus, when I first came to "Post Captain" which is the 2nd in the series & sets up many themes in the novels to come, I already knew how dilemmas would be resolved. This contributed to a feeling of irritation the first time I read it, especially as much occurs on land in a Jane Austen-esque style.
This time around I am re-reading all 20 books in order, & I find "Post Captain" to have many nuances I overlooked the first time. It is one of the funniest books in the series. There are some scenes (such as Maturin's first arrival on deck of Aubrey's acting command the "Lively") in which O'Brian's dry humor will have you in stitches. Of course this is also the novel in which Maturin contributes his much-quoted explanation for the term "dog-watch". The consequences of Pulling's celebration on being made lieutanant are hysterical; but in the dense plotting of "Post Captain" these moments are leavening to the sense of a lee-shore looming in the distance.
If you are currently reading the Aubrey/Maturin novels, you don't need a recommendation to get "Post Captain". Just take my advice & don't read this book out of sequence if possible. If you are thinking of starting this series, do so with "Master & Commander". You'll be happy you did!
on May 26, 2000
Post Captain is the second in the Aubrey/Maturin series and perhaps the first written with the knowledge that it was part of a series. O'Brian's first novel in the series was published shortly after C.S. Forester's death and the publication of Pope's and Kent's first novels in their series of wooden ships and iron men. O'Brian found a different niche within the genre and one that ultimately led to his recognition as a serious author of historical novels. If one has read Pope or Kent and even Forester, then the reader might have some difficulty getting into O'Brian's novels. If one accepts that O'Brian is a longer read and that the emphasis is more on character and historicity than violent action then one can enjoy this novel thoroughly.
I read the first book in the series, Master and Commander, and was disappointed. I enjoyed Post Captain more. Perhaps that was due to knowing what to expect and perhaps it is because Post Captain is better than its predecessor. However, it is not your typical naval action adventure. In fact, the first few chapters sounded a bit like Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy's perspective. The fact is that O'Brian writes well enough to pull it off. Post Captain does pick up when war is declared and Aubrey goes back to sea.
One area of conflict that I found strangely missing in Master and Commander was that between Aubrey and Maturin. I had expected that Maturin would be critical of Aubrey taking the ship into actions that caused wounds Maturin would have to treat. There is a serious conflict between the two in Post Captain although it's not over Aubrey's naval actions. Since the series has 18 more novels one knows that the conflict will be resolved.
The main problem that Aubrey faces in the novel is not the French navy but his own indebtedness and the inability to obtain a suitable command. Paradoxically, Aubrey is safe from creditors while at sea. The problems that a person faced while in debt in 1800 are explained well and the reader has great empathy with Aubrey.
The naval activities in Post Captain seem similar to those in Hornblower and the Hotspur to the point that the climactic action appears to correspond to the same point in history. While O'Brian did not appear to value the Hornblower novels greatly it is obvious that he owes Forester a debt of gratitude for creating the genre. Without Forester it is doubtful that O'Brian would have been able to develop his own unique niche and this excellent novel would not have been published.