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review 2018-07-04 18:18
H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick O'Brian
H.M.S. Surprise - Patrick O'Brian

I reach a point in any series longer than a trilogy where reading about the same characters and the types of situations they get into no longer does much for me. It's lost the freshness and excitement of the beginning and fallen into a rut, even if specific events are happening that haven't occurred before. I was looking forward to this book after really enjoying the second book and seeing all the reviewers calling this one their favorite, but unfortunately this was the book where I realized the series has been played out for me.

Most of this book is a long sea voyage, aimed toward what seems to be Cambodia. Captain Aubrey is tasked with delivering a government envoy, and for some reason seems to make a leisurely sail of it: they even stop in Rio on the way to sailing around Africa (given the amount of research that has clearly gone into these, I presume that was common?) and seem to be taking a lot longer to make the trip than other available forms of transportation, given that they receive rather up-to-date letters from home all along the way. Toward the end, bafflingly,

the envoy dies en route and so they give up and turn around, with no attempt to deliver his message or even let the sultan at their destination know of the situation.

(spoiler show)

Was diplomacy really handled this way? It makes the entire plot feel like a giant McGuffin.

Plot quibbles aside though, I'm just not into that into these books anymore. They still haven't given any significant development to anyone else on the ship; the only people other than Aubrey and Maturin who receive much at all are their love interests, who play a small role in this book. The principals' relationship was very complex and still developing in the first two books, but here it doesn't feel like there's much more for the author to do but retread old ground. And, finding the plot and characters less exciting than in the past, I found myself with less patience for being unable to picture much of what's going on (not sharing the author's fascination with Napoleonic Wars era ships and guns), and for the writing style that sometimes requires re-reading a paragraph several times to understand what's happening (due to unstated assumptions and norms and the author's habit of omitting key facts).

It isn't necessarily a bad book: the protagonists still have their complexities, the author's extensive research is still clear and provides a certain degree of immersion, etc. Nevertheless, I've hit my limit with this series.

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review 2017-09-18 21:05
Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian
Post Captain (Aubrey/Maturin Book 2) - Patrick O'Brian

This is a lot of fun, literary historical fiction with a dose of action. I read the first book a few years back and enjoyed it, though I struggled with the morass of seafaring terms. Either this book reduces them or I’d just gotten used to not understanding every word. This book broadens the world of the series, giving the heroes some time onshore to get into trouble and romantic entanglements (these sections are surprisingly reminiscent of Jane Austen, who was writing around the time these novels are set, which lends credibility to the text). There is perhaps less action here than in the first book, but the stakes are higher and more of the secondary characters are fleshed out. Aubrey and Maturin are both still complex, believable, flawed characters with a complicated friendship. The writing is good, there are moments of humor, and the setting is brought so thoroughly to life that a reader might be fooled into believing O’Brian was writing about his own time period. I think I must have liked this book better than the first, because I’m ready to read the third book sooner rather than later.

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review 2016-07-27 07:26
The Heart of the Sea
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - Nathaniel Philbrick

by Nathaniel Philbrick

 

Non-fiction

 

This is a seafaring story based on the records of a real whaling ship, The Essex, which was the basis of the story Moby Dick. It's about a ship that actually was attacked by a whale, as recorded in the ship's log and private notes written by a cabin boy.

 

My first impressions of the story were very positive. The narrative seemed to find the right balance between moving the story forward at a relaxed pace and filling in technical information that would allow the reader to appreciate the mechanics of operating an old style sailing ship and the value of an experienced crew. Unfortunately much of this crew lacked that experience and response time when they hit a storm made all the difference.

 

The quality held up all through and the trials and privations of shipwrecked sailors became disturbingly familiar, Even the difficulties the survivors had when they returned to civilization hit home in a way that only comes of very effective writing. I felt as if I had been there and gone through all that they had experienced.

 

Knowing that this is a true story and learning about the customs and daily lives of the sailors was fascinating to say the least. Despite the unpleasant situations, I really enjoyed the read. I came out of it feeling like I had lived in Nantucket in its glory days of the whaling industry, like I'd sailed on a whaling ship, and like I had experienced the horrors of living day to day, adrift at sea. You can't ask for more from a story based on facts.

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review 2014-05-16 04:33
Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
Throne of Jade - Naomi Novik

This book combines two of my least favorite aspects of the fantasy genre--unnecessary sequels and endless travelogues--into a vortex of boredom. I almost never give up 320 pages into a 400-page book, but I am already kicking myself for having read as far as I did and see no point to wasting any more of my life on it.

The first book is great fun, but this one did not need to exist. The characters who were great came back dull, the okay ones came back interchangeable, and there is absolutely nothing going on except a very slow voyage to China,* because the Chinese want Temeraire back, which of course we know isn't going to last because there are half a dozen more books featuring him and Laurence in places that aren't China.

Now it's no secret that I have little patience for series and even less for the episodic type, but good grief, if you're going to write that kind of series, at least bring in some complex new characters or interesting plots or something.

 

I propose a new rule for fantasy book writing: if more than a quarter of any sequel is spent traveling, it's because the author doesn't really have anything more to say in this world or with these characters, and is simply drawing it out for the sake of writing a sequel. The manuscript should be scrapped immediately.

 

 

*I assume that by the end of the book the characters did in fact reach their destination? Because 80% of the way through, I was still waiting for it.

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review 2010-06-01 00:00
Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives
Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways & Sailors' Wives - David Cordingly In short, for a book called "Seafaring Women" it was shockingly patronizing of women. (Or maybe it wasn't shocking, and that was what made me so angry.)
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