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Blue at the Mizzen Audio CD – May 1 2007
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Almost three decades after commencing his maritime epic with Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian is still at it. The 20th episode, Blue at the Mizzen, is another swashbuckling adventure on the high seas, complete with romantic escapades from smoggy London to Sierra Leone, diplomacy, espionage, the intricacies of warfare, and imperial brinksmanship. As always, these events are bound up in the ongoing friendship between two officers of the Royal Navy. Jack Aubrey is the naval captain, bold yet compassionate, innovative yet cautious, as fearless in war as he is bumbling in affairs of the heart and household. His boon companion Stephen Maturin is the ship's surgeon--and additionally a spy for the British government, a wealthy Catalonian aristocrat, a doting Irish father, and an avid naturalist.
That may sound like a lot to keep track of. However, it's not necessary to carry around a scorecard or ship's roster while reading Blue at the Mizzen. The ostensible issue is whether Jack will finally be promoted to Admiral of the Blue. But long before he hears any word from the Napoleonic era's equivalent of Personnel, he loses half his crew to desertion, his ship undergoes a disastrous collision, and the entire company comes close to perishing in the ice-choked seas off Cape Horn. Meanwhile, the widowed Maturin issues a surprising proposal of marriage to a beautiful, mud-bespattered fellow naturalist while trekking through an African mangrove swamp. (The two lovebirds happen to be searching for a rare variant of Caprimulgus longipennis, the long-tailed nightjar, which they hope to surprise in full mating plumage.)
Still, this is hardly a plot-driven novel. O'Brian takes time to get anywhere, and invariably enjoys the journey more than the arrival. So even as we get constant hints of the climax to come--Jack's spectacular naval action on behalf of the infant Republic of Chile--we don't mind hearing about the nuances of shipboard existence or the secret life of the white-faced tree duck. We're treated, for example, to this snippet about managed care, circa 1816:
Poll, Maggie and a horse-leech from the starboard watch have been administering enemas to the many, many cases of gross surfeit that have now replaced the frostbites, torsions, and debility of the recent past, the very recent past. Strong, fresh, seal-meat has not its equal for upsetting the seaman's metabolism: he is much better kept on biscuits, Essex cheese, and a very little well-seethed salt pork--kept on short commons.And we're grateful! We can only hope that the elderly author will favor us with at least one more novel, so that his avid followers can avoid their own form of short commons. Life without Aubrey and Maturin would be a deprivation indeed. --Andrew Himes --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
With bittersweet pleasure, readers may deem this 20thAand possibly finalAinstallment in O'Brian's highly regarded series featuring Capt. Jack Aubrey of the English Royal Navy and Stephen Maturin, ship's doctor, the best of the lot. Post-Waterloo, the frigate Surprise sets sail to South America as a "hydrographical vessel," ostensibly to survey the Straits of Magellan and Chile's southern coast. In fact, Jack and Stephen are to offer help to the Chilean rebels trying to break free from Spain. On their way down the coast of West Africa, romance blossoms for both men. Jack's liaison (with his cousin, Isobel, in Gibraltar) is brief, but widower Stephen's passion for Christine Wood, a naturalist who has been his correspondent for some time, turns serious in Sierra Leone. The doctor's correspondence with Christine begins with accounts of his explorations in Africa and South America, referencing, say, an "anomalous nuthatch" or the "etymology of doldrum," but they're quite wonderful love letters, functioning as a chorus to the action. Once in Chile, despite the conflict between opposing rebel camps, Jack leads a successful raid on a treasure fort in Valdivia, followed by the seizure of a Peruvian frigate to be turned over to the Chilean rebels, triumphs that reap him a just reward; at that point, readers will learn the title's significance. Throughout, familiar characters abound and entertain, especially the amusingly nasty steward, Killick, and Stephen's "loblolly girl" (nurse), Poll Skeeping. And finally, there is Horatio Hanson, bastard son of a nobleman, who comes on board as a midshipman, a dashing young foil for the ship's elders. O'Brian has rightfully been compared to Jane Austen, but one wonders if even she would have done justice to "those extraordinary hollow dwellings, sometimes as beautiful as they were comfortless." To use one of Stephen's favorite expressions, "What joy!" Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Nov.) FYI: Over three million copies of the books in the Aubrey/Maturin series have been sold. O'Brian will make two mid-November appearances in New York, one already sold out. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The first, and most astonishing, strength of this series is in its characterization. Not only are the contrasting, yet inseparable, friends Jack and Stephen believable, appealing, vividly human characters, but they change realistically through time. To the reader, they appear as "real" people with "real" lives, perhaps more so than some of the the flesh and blood ephemera around us. The secondary characters, too, shine -- Killick is priceless.
Research, of course, is O'Brian's other great strength. It's not only the ships, about which he seems to know everything. There's no aspect of the period -- food, dialect, religion, music -- in which he does not seem to be well versed. And he conveys this information to the reader in interesting ways, rather than encumbering the text with massive info-dumps.
One often overlooked bright spot in this series is its humor. Too often historical fiction has a self-consciously grim quality. O'Brian can be grim -- crushingly depressing, in fact --but... "Swiving Monachorum".
Action and battles are not, strangely, this series' strongest point. When we get them, they're great, but too often they are skipped over or told in a distant third-person viewpoint. But the worst here is still very good indeed.
I would recommend reading all of these, in order, starting with the first one, right away, as soon as you possibly can. It's true that The Hundred Days marks a low point -- I agree with the reviewers who cite O'Brian's loss of his wife as the reason -- but Blue at the Mizzen, under which I've posted this review, marks a triumphant return of the author's powers.
There are three main reasons for this. First, the naval lore and action are quite as good and compelling as the battles of C S Foresters's Horatio Hornblower. Second, these are real novels, more than rattling good action yarns, with complex characters, credible women (Diana Villiers is a grand creation) and a genuine historical sense of life ashore that reveal O'Brien's admiration for Jane Austen. Above all, the series is given life and depth and tension by the heart of the books, the friendship between Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, the half-Irish, half-Catalan, who is naturalist, physician, musician and spy.
At times, the reader is lost in the world of Charles Darwin and the voyage of 'The Beagle' as Maturin delights in the flora and fauna that come the way of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, the Antarctic, the South Pacific and the Newfoundland Banks. At times, one is lost in a world of culinary history, or of secret intelligence, or primitive surgery. The French enemies are drawn with intelligent sympathy, and the American naval adversaries treated with proper respect.
To embark upon the long voyage of this marvellous series is to plunge into a compelling and enchanting world.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Mr. O'Brian made his scholarship eminently readable; without his novels, I would never have understood the term "Mizzen" or the full meaning of personal integrity in a man... Read morePublished on Sept. 11 2013 by David MaY
As close to eroticism as Patrick O'Brian is going to get. Also, many more dinners with 6 removes. Once more for the Horn.Published on May 24 2013 by Arnold Wiren
The end of a great book always produces a letdown for me so it was a double whammy to realize as I turned the last page of Blue at the Mizzen that it was book-series-match. Read morePublished on Feb. 19 2002 by David Owen
Thanks to the late Patrick O'Brian for wrapping up the series on an up note. I grew as a mariner with each book in this series from a landlubber to...maybe a ships boy. Read morePublished on Feb. 20 2001
Patrick O'brien has left this world. His books and charachters have stayed at the turn of the century long ago and far away. Read morePublished on Oct. 2 2000 by david milne
I've read the whole A/M series at least 3-4 times and just can't get enough of it. Commuting 45 minutes each way to work and back daily, I rent a lot of CD/books from a... Read morePublished on May 31 2000 by rentscds
I have read,and bought all of the series. I was disappointed, when comparing with the others in the series. Read morePublished on April 12 2000 by L B Thomas
I picture O'Brian near the end, facing his mortality, wrestling ghosts from WWII, writing in a lonely room at Trinity College in his adopted Ireland, finishing what surely was a... Read morePublished on March 23 2000 by William Charles Daniel
Another great sea story. Goodby my friends. May you allways have the weather gauge.Published on March 19 2000 by TODD R CASPELL
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