This 1970 novel introduced the pair of British characters whose early 19th century adventures at sea would eventually run to a series of 20 books: Jack Aubrey, the naval ship commander and Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon. It is April 1800, and on the Mediterranean island of Minorca Aubrey receives his first command, the small sloop "Sophie." Maturin is a penniless Irish physician, well read and multi-lingual, with a considerable interest in naturalism, who joins the ship because he has nothing better to do. The "Sophie" plies the western Mediterranean, looking for ships belonging to the enemy, France, and her ally Spain. Aubrey engages a number of enemy vessels, attacks shore installations, has an impolitic affair with his superior officer Captain Harte's lively wife Molly, and by the climax of the novel is facing a court-martial for losing his ship. Superbly written, quite erudite (a marine glossary or one of several books that have been published specifically to explain O'Brian's vast vocabulary would be helpful to have at hand), and most acute in its depiction of character and daily life aboard a man-of-war, this book partly inspired the hit 2003 movie, which takes a couple incidents from it but is mostly based on the 10th book of the series, _The Far Side of the World_. But it's a splendid opening to an unparalleled series.
This report prepared by David Loftus