Patrick O’Brian: The Mauritius Command

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'BrianMoving onward to volume four of the Aubrey-Maturin series. According to O’Brian’s preface, The Mauritius Command is based on an actual campaign, and this shows in various ways. Most notably in how focused it is (at least for a novel by O’Brian) – it follows the course of the campaign closely, barely straying from its tightly defined path – no amorous entanglements, no naturalist expeditions, none (or at least, very few) of the leisurely ambling that characterized Post Captain and HMS Surprise and which, for me at least, tend to be the main source of delight in this series.

As can be infered from this, I liked Mauritius Command rather less than the two novels before, and it most reminds me of Master & Commander with its emphasis placed firmly on naval matters and warfare at sea. And O’Brian is as good with those as always, giving us detailed descriptions of sea-battles that make the strategy involved transparent even to a not particularly nautically inclined reader while at the same time giving a very vivid impression of the messiness, the confusing motion, deafening sounds, overpowering smells of naval fighting. It is all very exciting, but just not what I enjoy most about the series, which are the characters of Aubrey and Maturin, and their constant wonder at each other and at the world around them. That element is not completely absent from The Mauritius Command but it is in relatively short supply.

O’Brian to some degree makes up for that with the new characters he introduces, most notably another captain / ship’s doctor pairing we encounter here in Lord Clonfert and William McAdam, that is very different from the relationship between Jack and Stephen and yet mirrors in very interesting ways. This doubled pairing, Aubrey and Maturin set in relation to what could be considered their dark twins, a deeply conflicted captain and his alcoholic ship’s doctor are what made this novel for me. But your mileage may of course vary, and it’s not like I had been bored during the more strictly nautical parts of the novel – everything considered, The Mauritius Command is another highly enjoyable installment in the series. It’s also where I had to break off my first reading for unrelated reasons, so from the next volume I shall be sailing uncharted waters.

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