Wednesday, February 9, 2011

TLM's First Reading Challenge: The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian

It's been more than a month since our last post here at TLM. The cause is obvious, as is the cure. I'm addicted. I'm not afraid to admit it. And I feel compelled to share my addiction by embarking upon the very first TLM Reading/Listening Challenge.

The challenge is this: one complete tour through the 21 novels that comprise Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin Series before year's end. If you've never picked up the Aubrey/Maturin Series, it treats the adventures of British naval officer Jack Aubrey and his Irish/Catalan naval surgeon Stephen Maturin throughout the years during and immediately following the Napoleonic Wars. Though fiction, the novels are renowned for their historical accuracy, and each provides enough swashbuckling adventure, political intrigue, and romance to fill a ship-of-the-line. Richard Snow of the New York Times called the Aubrey/Maturin Series "the best historical novels ever written."

Here are the 21 Aubrey/Maturin novels in order:
The Surgeon's Mate (1980)
The Ionian Mission (1981)
Treason's Harbour (1983)
The Far Side of the World (1984)
The Reverse of the Medal (1986)
The Letter of Marque (1988)
The Thirteen Gun Salute (1989)
The Nutmeg of Consolation (1991)
Clarissa Oakes/The Truelove (1992)
The Wine-Dark Sea (1993)
The Commodore (1995)
The Yellow Admiral (1996)
The Hundred Days (1998)
Blue at the Mizzen (1999)
The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey/21 (2004)

So who's in? I have a bit of a head start. I'm through the first five novels, and I'm on to number six, The Fortune of War. Thus far, The Mauritius Command and Desolation Island are my particular favorites, though all have been enjoyable reads. I will be posting on them in sets of five, with the first post, covering Master and Commander through Desolation Island, to come over the next several days.

If you are up for the challenge, I invite your participation--please let me know that you're in by posting below. I am also soliciting ideas for some sort of prize or at least acknowledgment of accomplishment for those who see the series through. Please do share your thoughts.


  1. hmmm, all 21? not sure about that.... but I'll give M&C a go and decide from there. I do love a good series!


  2. I'm very tempted. I'll try to read Master and Commander and then see. I actually had no idea there were 21!

  3. @Anon and Shelley - That's great! But I feel that I should warn you. M&C is chock full o' naval and sailing terminology, which creates a bit of a drag on the new reader. I originally picked up M&C and put it down about halfway through. I later picked up Desolation Island and was blown away. If you want a taste of O'Brian before you order the whole meal, I'd go with Desolation Island or The Mauritius Command.

  4. OH! i am in. though i am 1 ahead of you now; working on The Surgeon's Mate. They are fabulous audio books and i'm getting through 1 every 2 weeks or so in the car!

  5. @Generic Viagra - Thanks very much and I couldn't agree more! We'll continue doing our best to keep everyone interested.

    @Melanie - Great! I have been going back and forth between the books and audiobooks. I agree with you that they really do make great audiobooks. Are you listening to the Simon Vance readings or the Patrick Tull readings? I've tried both, but tend to like the Vance readings a little better. Though, I have read that some liseners are very loyal to Tull, who seems a bit more dramatic.

  6. DAMN, this looks fun, but I'm going to have to exercise my right to moments of sheer cowardice. AS I have with the usual degree of bravado, ego & complete stupidity, already filled my dance card, with an inordinately large quota of challenges. But will follow & raise the occasional glass of navy rum to you.

  7. thanks for the heads up. Desolation and Mauritius both sound good. they are both in at my branch of the library so I'll pick one up on monday. they only have M&C to download as an audio, but seem to have a mixed bag of Tull and Vance audio CD's available. these seem like they would be great ones to listen to.


  8. An intriguing offer, however rather difficult to fulfill seeing as acquiring the books in my current position would be almost... um, impossible. I think (and the website is notoriously unreliable, so I can't be certain...) my local library has a copy of Master and Commander but past that I definitely have no access to these. But I'll definitely try. Seafaring historically accurate adventurous fiction?! It sounds awesome.

  9. The first time I read the series I was retired and it took me 4 months. The next time was after I came out of retirement and it took me a leisurely 9 months. I've been listening to Simon Vance and am about to start Ionian Mission tonight. The audio books are a great cure for insomnia on my MP3 player set to turn off at 20 minutes. I usually have to back up 10 minutes when I restart the next session upon awakening. My public library has a download site on the net for the Vance series.

  10. @ Parrish Lantern - I certainly understand an overload of commitments, so you're off the hook. But it is disappointing - just think of the witticisms that you could make of all that nineteenth-century English navy-speak!

    @ Cindy - Glad to have you aboard (and that's the last time I'll use that pun, I promise)! Please do let me know which reader you like better.

    @ Biblibio - It IS awesome and well worth the try. It's a little disappointing that the library carries M&C but no more--that's like showing one episode of a mini-series. Let me know what you think of M&C in any case!

    @ Gil - Thanks for the comment. A download site on the net? That's fantastic! I'm sure that it's limited to local library members, right? There are a number of commenters above who apparently have trouble getting a hold of anything other than M&C.

  11. Many public libraries have download sites. I live in Savannah, but I have seen such sites in major cities such as Boston. The Georgia Download site services the entire state. The states seem to all use the same format and delivery system, OverDrive Media. The selections are limited, but I've downloaded Austen, P.D. James, Dickens...

  12. Yes, it is limited to local library members. I access with my library card number. Gil

  13. I've tried doing this multiple times, reading Master and Commander twice already. I'm going to do this again all the way through. I have both the Patrick Tull and Simon Vance readings. I don't know which one I like better. Vance is sometimes easier to listen to for all those hours, but he makes Jack sound like a buffoon and gives Stephen a pretentious, British accent when he is Irish/Catalan (Spanish). Plus the Vance readings are censured. Instead of some swears he says "blank". That I don't like. So we'll see which one is better.