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The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian

The Ionian Mission (1981)

by Patrick O'Brian

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Aubrey-Maturin (8)

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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
The Ionian Mission, Patrick O’Brian’s eighth book in his Aubrey-Maturin series, sees Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin working on blockade duty around Toulon, France aboard the HMS Worcester. Much of the plot involves the prolonged sense of being outside the normal flow of time that accompanies blockade duty, with Aubrey struggling to find his usual zeal, the crew composing poems and practicing Hamlet for a way to break up the monotony, and Stephen intermittently engaging in some intelligence work, though he limits his activities due to his no longer being unattached (having married Diana Villers at the end of the previous novel) and his loss of cover (also in the previous novel). Jack must likewise attempt to balance his political obligations to Admiral Thornton, commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet and an old role model to Jack, with Thornton’s underline, Read Admiral Harte, who dislikes Jack based on past bad blood. Add to this Jack’s sense of obligation to his first lieutenant, Tom Pullings, who needs a successful action if he’s to have a chance of advancing to master, and our protagonists find themselves in an uncertain situation.

Of particular note is the return of the HMS Surprise, Jack’s favorite ship, second only to the Sophie, his first command. Jack is tasked with control of the Surprise to negotiate with the various Turkish authorities in order to determine who will best aid England in harrying French shipping in the Ionian Sea. Like his previous novels, O’Brian perfectly recreates the world of the Napoleonic War in 1812, this time focusing on much of the careful negotiations between England and other European, Asian, and Arabian powers that enabled their eventual victory. This Folio Society edition reprints the original text with insets containing historical portraits and sketches to illustrate some of the scenes. A great contribution to the Aubrey-Maturin series and the second of twelve to focus on what O’Brian described as an extended 1812, with these dozen books taking place between the beginning of June 1813 and November 1813. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Sep 14, 2018 |
The Ionian Mission, book eight of twenty, is maybe the first real spell of doldrums in this rich, ever-rewarding saga; and even its relatively uneventful story is still rich with authenticity, and brimming with dry wit, facetiousness and farce (poor Dr. Maturin still comically uncomfortable with sea life). The prose is pleasing as ever, and Lucky Jack & Stephen's conversations, musical or otherwise, are engrossing and relatable. This is no 'Desolation Island', but it is still extremely good and comforting.

The book starts strong with charming account of Stephen and Diana's curious married and social lives, and transitions hilariously to Stephen's most undignified arrival yet on Jack's latest command (the maligned 'Worcester'). O'Brian's pacing is very brisk and never, ever in danger of sagging, despite the voyage's singularly idle nature. The endless Toulon blockade, Stephen's ill-fated intelligence rendezvous, and tedious diplomacy with the Turks tread water narratively, placing on our favorite characters a new kind of trial - these action-primed veterans are perpetually blueballed for real warfare. Everything pays off however, in a thrilling ship battle as satisfying as any O'Brian has written. As always, I finished the book with a great excitement to begin the next. ( )
1 vote ddueck88 | Oct 13, 2017 |
As much as I admire and enjoy the works of POB, I must confess that this volume of the Aubrey-Maturin was a painfully boring read. Perhaps the author intended to bore the reader, just as Captain Jack Aubrey was bored with this installment's setting, which begins with his ship on blockade duty off Toulon. Adding to a fan's frustration, the interaction between Aubrey and Maturin is limited and shallow. Sure, this book includes the usual rich gallery of colorful secondary characters who enter and leave at various points over the course of the story, but they just didn't hold my attention because the plot was so thin. The story seems to meander about without much action and no sea battles until the very end of the novel. Patrick O'Brien was a supremely gifted writer and a very good story teller, but this is not an effort equal to his other works. ( )
  Richard7920 | Jul 24, 2016 |
The Ionian Mission is the eighth chapter in the adventures of Aubrey and Maturin - although "adventures" might be just a tad misleading for this particular volume. As O'Brian continues his series he also continues to play with and explore the roman fleuve form, quite obviously enjoying the freedom from structural constraints the serial format grants him.

For the umpteenth part in a potentially infinite series of novels there is no need to bother with even the most basic Aristotelian structure of having a beginning, a middle and an end; instead, just like a chapter in a novel, it has to fit in with the parts surrounding it and the overall picture, a mosaic piece rather than an independent entity, part of a whole rather than something that needs to stand on its own. This appears to have suited O'Brian perfectly - even the early Aubrin-Maturin novels, before he was planning them as a series, are characterized by a free, easy flow rather than a tightly drawn structure and as the series progresses O'Brian happily throws all limiting constraints of a formal framework overboard, in the end jettisoning even plausibility as his Napoleonic War drags on an improbably long time, stretching the series' timeframe far beyond any realistic limits.

This time, O'Brian's target seems to have been to find out with just how few things actually happening he could get away with - there have been earlier volumes which have been low on action but in The Ionian Mission absolutely nothing at all happens until the novel's final fifteen pages or so. And by "nothing at all" I do mean nothing at all - in spite of several attempts to engage French ships, to Jack Aubrey's increasing frustration there is no action actually happening, engagements always avoided at the last moment by the singularly evasive French. Instead, we get an extensive portrait of life on sea at the start of the nineteenth century, with special emphasis on songs and poetry (and yes, that is to be taken quite literally, too - the reader should be prepared for an uncommon lot of - really not very good - naval poetry when embarking on The Ionian Mission).

But as it turns out (not really surprisingly, for anyone who has followed the series this far) is that Captain Aubrey's frustration is the reader's delight. A novel describing nothing but the daily routine life on a Royal Navy vessel at the start of the nineteenth century might at first glance not sound like exciting reading material for anyone who does not happen to have a special interest in that particular subject, in fact from the bare description it sounds exceedingly boring. But somehow, Patrick O'Brian manages to make reading about sailors and officers going about their work and relaxing afterwards during a lengthy sea voyage appear like the most fascinating thing ever and not for a single moment through three hundred pages of non-plot, non-adventure and non-action did I feel even faintly bored. In a way, the reader becomes both Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin when reading an Aubrey-Maturin novel: like the former he enjoys navigating the sea of O'Brian's prose, gliding smoothly and easily, always with a favourable wind at his back, while, like the latter, delighting in all the wonders he encounters along the way, the original similes and metaphors, the well-turned periods, the vivid descriptions. The Ionian Mission presents readers with the pure essence of the Aubrey-Maturin series, stripped bare of everything that is extraneous to it until all that remains is the flow of O'Brian's language; and this novel proves conclusively that he really can write about absolutely anything and make it a joy to read, that his prose breathes life into even the most dry-seeming subject matter, and that even the most trifling and insignificant things sparkle when he touches them with the magic wand of his pen.
2 vote Larou | Mar 30, 2016 |
The eighth in the adventures of Captain Aubrey and Dr.Maturin. After a peak into their respective home lives (Maturin's is my particular favorite: he and Diana have homes of their own because their lives are so different--plus he needs privacy for all his intelligence work--but he visits often for shared breakfast in bed and dinner parties), they ship off to support the blockade against the French. It's a long, boring period for them, made more troubling by the leadership. One of Aubrey's old commanders is in charge of the blockade, and too long without action or hope have severely depressed his spirits and health. His second in command is one of the many captains Aubrey has disobliged over the years--this time, not by sleeping with his wife, but instead by catching him cheating at cards. At last, the French make a break for it, giving the squadron a chance to finally fight--and they can't catch them. The commander is so depressed he must go home for his health, and Aubrey is placed under the command of a man who deeply hates him. Then some other stuff happens that I have forgotten because I took a few months' break (purely because I listen to these books rather than read them), and then somehow Aubrey manages to get off his slow decrepit ship and onto the dear old Surprise! Moreover, he's off blockade duty and instead, gets to travel up and down the coast determining which Turkish leader to throw his support (and canons) behind. The book ends with a very exciting ship battle.

This is a wonderful episode in the lives of Maturin and Aubrey. Both characters are adorably showcased here, plus Aubrey gets to be a serious badass, which he's missed out on in the last few books. Additionally, this book is particularly funny--I cannot count the number of times I cackled. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patrick O'Brianprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hunt, GeoffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tull, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Marriage was once represented as a field of battle rather than a bed of roses, and perhaps there are some who may still support this view; but just as Dr Maturin had made a far more unsuitable match than most, so he set about dealing with the situation in a far more compendious, peaceable and efficacious way than the great majority of husbands.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393308219, Paperback)

Aubrey and Maturin return to the choppy Mediterranean waters where they first served together, enforcing the Royal Navy's blockade of Toulon. Then the two companions are sent to the Greek Islands, where another series of maritime cliff-hangers awaits them. O'Brian performs his peculiar narrative magic as adeptly as ever, putting (as The Observer would have it) the "spark of character into the sawdust of time."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:06 -0400)

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Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, veterans now of many battles, return in this novel to the seas where they first sailed as shipmates. But a sudden turn of events takes them off on a hazardous mission to the Greek isles, where they are soon involved in fierce and thrilling action.… (more)

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393308219, 0393037088

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