Patrick O'Brian, one of our greatest contemporary novelists, is the author of the acclaimed Aubrey/Maturin tales and the biographer of Joseph Banks and Picasso. His first novel, Testimonies, and his Collected Short Stories were recently republished by HarperCollins. In 1995, he was the first recipient of the Heywood Hill Prize for a lifetime's contribution to literature. In the same year he was awarded the CBE. In 1997 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by Trinity College, Dublin. He died in January 2000 at the age of 85.
This, the 17th installment in O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series (e.g., The Reverse of the Medal, Audio Reviews, LJ 8/95), is perhaps the author's most satisfying tale. The plot structure is similiar to the other books: in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, British sea captain Jack Aubrey and surgeon/spy Stephen Maturin spend some time ashore in family and business complexities, then sail off on a multiple mission for the Crown. Here the job is to convince the Sultan of Pulo Prabang in the South Seas that an alliance with Britain is a better idea than one with France. The ship they sail in is the Diane, with Aubrey's usual ship, the Surprise, somewhere nearby. In the course of their speculations and adventures-Maturin is a skilled naturalist and encounters a remarkable collection of flora and fauna-plot lines from far back in the series are resolved. Narrator Patrick Tull has carried the Recorded Books version of this series onward, and his almost irascible British voice fits the characters and locale. He distinguishes among the characters with subtle tone shadings, and each is instantly recognizable. Tull also has a particular way of pausing between words for emphasis, which helps the listener instantly realize the gravity of each situation. Libraries with any earlier titles in the series will want to acquire this one.-Don Wismer, Office of the Secretary of State, Augusta, Me.
'...full of the energy that comes from a writer having struck a vein... Patrick O'Brian is unquestionably the Homer of the Napoleonic wars.' James Hamilton- Paterson 'You are in for the treat of your lives. Thank God for Patrick O'Brian: his genius illuminates the literature of the English language, and lightens the lives of those who read him.' Kevin Myers, Irish Times 'In a highly competitive field it goes straight to the top. A real first-rater.' Mary Renault 'I never enjoyed a novel about the sea more. It is not only that the author describes the handling of a ship of 1800 with an accuracy that is as comprehensible as it is detailed, a remarkable feat in itself. Mr O'Brian's three chief characters are drawn with no less depth of sympathy than the vessels he describes, a rare achievement save in the greatest writers of this genre. It deserves the widest readership.' Irish Times
The 18th in O'Brian's Jack Aubrey series will please current fans and likely make new ones. Newly rich Aubrey ( The Letter of Marque ), again a Royal Navy captain and even a ``rotten-borough'' M.P., is given command of the frigate Diane with orders to bring king's envoy Fox to conclude a treaty with the sultan of Borneo before Napoleon does. Aboard is Jack's friend Dr. Maturin, English secret agent and avid naturalist. After a placid trip (via Antarctica) and some stormy local politics (involving two English traitors and the sultan's catamite) the treaty is made. Fox's growing arrogance breeds ill will and when homeward-bound Diane hits a reef Jack gladly sends the envoy ahead in a cutter. O'Brian's style has been compared with Jane Austen's: even the dinners (in country house, London, ship's mess, sultan's palace, Buddhist monastery) are distinguished wittily. Perhaps the most charming segment is Maturin's idyllic stay in a remote valley, where he blissfully encounters and studies a variety of tame exotic beasts. (May)