This morning I finished reading Blue At The Mizzen, the last complete book in the twenty-book Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. I’m a huge fan of these books: I have read the first fourteen books twice, and only once before have I given any of them fewer than five stars. This last book, unfortunately, has left me strangely cool.
As I said, this is the last complete book in the series. The author was working on a twenty-first book when he died in 2000, so while I had hoped that Mizzen would wrap things up nicely, it didn’t. I had hoped that since twenty was such a nice round number, O’Brian had ended the series there, but then later decided to pick it up again with the twenty-first novel. Sadly, Mizzen was not meant to be the final book.
There are loose ends all around, and the story of this book is certainly the weakest of the series. A great deal of it is taken up with Stephen’s wanderings and observations and the two naval battles in the story aren’t described in nearly as much detail as in previous books. Jack does receive a certain happy news on the penultimate page, but given the number of loose ends, that is little comfort.
Apart from this book not being the finale, and not being particularly strong, I am sad to have finished the series. Jack and Stephen have been with me for several years now. They feel like old friends, friends that I don’t wish to leave just yet. I will miss Stephen’s ignorance of so many things about the Navy, despite his being afloat with Jack for at least 15 years. I will miss Jack gently poking fun at Stephen with his oft-repeated, “Lord, Stephen, what a fellow you are!” I will miss Preserved Killick’s perpetual grumpiness with calls for coffee greeted with, “Which I’m bringing it this very minute!” Barrett Bonden, Awkward Davies, Tom Pullings, Sophie Aubrey, and so many other regular characters, I will miss them all.
At the request of fans, the publisher has published the unfinished twenty-first novel, under the title 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey. Will I read it? I don’t think so. As unsatisfying as this complete novel was for me, I can’t imagine an incomplete, unedited sequel would serve any better. (As I was editing this post, I stopped to read some of the reviews for 21 at Amazon. I may yet read it. We’ll see.)
I started reading the series because I had seen the movie, Master and Commander, starring Russel Crowe. Within the first five pages of the first book, Master and Commander, I was hooked. The books are full of exciting naval combat, political intrigue and tons of heart and humor. Sometimes O’Brian gets extremely technical and detailed in his descriptions of sails, spars and ropes, but you don’t need to fully understand those details to enjoy the stories. What’s so cool about this series is that each book is more like a chapter in a huge work rather than a standalone book; usually one book picks up directly after the previous one ended.
I should mention that because I saw the film first, whenever I’m reading the books I see Crowe’s Aubrey, and hear him in Crowe’s voice inside my head. My Stephen isn’t exactly like Paul Bettany‘s but he’s pretty close. I thought Crowe did a very good job of playing Aubrey, so I could have done worse for a mental image, I suppose.
I’m sure that I will reread the entire series again, probably more than once. But for now, I’ll have to content myself with other things. I’ve read some of Forrester’s Horatio Hornblower, so maybe I’ll pick up some more in that series.
Farewell, Jack and Stephen, and good sailing.