H.M.S. 'Surprise' (Aubrey/Maturin Book 3) - Patrick O'Brian, Patrick Tull 3 – 3.5 stars

As the rating attests I enjoyed this book, but I am not sure if I will ever be one of the rabid legion of fans enamoured of Patrick O’Brian’s work. I certainly enjoyed this book much more than I did [b:Master and Commander|77430|Master and Commander (Aubrey/Maturin, #1)|Patrick O'Brian|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348627212s/77430.jpg|722040] which, quite frankly, I found opaque and uninteresting. I also skipped over the second book in the series since Aubrey and Maturin on land worrying about their love lives didn’t really seem like the next best point to re-try getting into the series. For some reason I can’t quite fathom I’ve always felt a little guilty about not liking the first book and there’s something deep down in me that really wants to like this series. There is, after all, quite a bit to love: two well-drawn main characters who complement and contrast each other very nicely in both their skills and demeanor, a detailed (one might say perhaps a bit too detailed) glimpse into the minds and manners of Napoleonic Europe (with obviously a decided concentration on naval procedures and jargon), and enough adventure and excitement to generally keep things interesting. Of course, there are slow points and between naval engagements or chases, duels, and moments of intense physical or emotional intensity the calm can be somewhat soporific. I suppose this is a nice parallel to the sea voyages that comprise the bulk of the narrative: moments of intense action and apprehension leavened with days and days of routine and boredom. That’s not quite fair, I guess, I certainly didn’t find myself yawning too much during this book, but it is true that events often move at a sedate pace for the lion’s share of the pages.

As the story opens we find ourselves thrust into the midst of a meeting of politicians and naval muckety-mucks the result of which will be a major disappointment for Captain Jack Aubrey and a significant impediment to the health and possible continuance of Dr. Stephen Maturin’s life. Loose lips sink ships, and they also put His Majesty’s spies into tight corners. After some period scene setting with Jack’s fiancée Sophie and an initial adventure involving torture, rescue and escape the upshot is that Jack and Stephen are back at sea, nominally for the purpose of ferrying an envoy from Britain to the East Indies. From here we are treated to the requisite scenes of naval life, Stephen’s obsession with natural philosophy and both scientific and cultural observation, forays into the culture of the Indian subcontinent, and woman troubles for both Jack and Stephen. Add to that a duel, the weathering of some truly monumental forces of nature, and a surprise naval engagement and you’ve pretty much got everything you ought to expect from an Aubrey-Maturin novel.

The long and the short of it is that I enjoyed this novel quite a bit, certainly enough to more or less efface the bad taste I had after reading the first one. I definitely plan on continuing to follow Jack and Stephen’s further adventures, though I have not yet been converted to the level of hardcore fandom. One note: I alternated between listening to the Patrick Tull narrated audio version of the book and reading my electronic version. Overall I enjoyed Tull’s performance (it really can’t be called anything short of that), though his pauses and occasionally prolonged drawl did make me stumble from time to time.