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.
The latest of O'Brian's many novels of the sea, this is an intriguing story about an early 19th-century British ship as it voyages through the South China Sea. On their way back from concluding a treaty with a local potentate, Captain Jack Aubrey and his crew go through a series of adventures, including shipwreck and a battle with a French frigate. They end up amidst the cruelty of Botany Bay, the penal colony in New South Wales. The crew are, on the whole, a dignified bunch, and some of the characters are very well drawn, including Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, the ship's Irish doctor and naturalist. Some of the best parts of the book are the descriptions of the flora and fauna of the area, and O'Brian certainly knows his stuff about 19th-century seamanship (although landlubber readers may find themselves confused by some of the technical terminology). Recommended for public libraries.-- Bryan Aubrey, Fairfield, Ia.
'...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
Readers will welcome the reappearance here of elegant Stephen Maturin, one hero of O'Brian's excellent 19th-century seafarer series. Maturin is a ship's doctor, naturalist, spy, musician, ex-opium eater and, we're reminded here, terrific swordsman. His ``brother'' is Capt. Jack Aubrey, RN, MP, popular hero for his success against Napoleon, less introspective but as subtly drawn as Maturin and as avid a musician. Last seen in The Thirteen-Gun Salute the two were shipwrecked on a barren isle in the South China Sea. After a bitter fight with Dyaks and Malays they reach Batavia, where Governor Raffles gives Aubrey the eponymic Dutch sloop (``a tight, sweet, newly-coppered, broad-buttocked litle ship, a solace to any man's heart'') to continue his circumnavigation of the globe. As usual the chief joys are in the details of the food, drink and clothes of the era, with those of the rain forests, kangaroos and platypuses added here. On the other hand, early Sydney's squalor is matched by its brutality. (Sept.)