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The Letter of Marque by Patrick O'Brian

The Letter of Marque (1988)

by Patrick O'Brian

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Aubrey-Maturin (12)

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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Once again, beautiful vignettes from daily life seamlessly used together to paint another enchanting picture of Aubrey and Maturin. This time they are struggling to cope with the fall out from Jack's dismissal from the Navy following his conviction for a stock market fraud he did not commit. Jack and the people who love him strive to put right the wrong, sailing the Surprise as a private ship, a letter of marque, seeking above all an engagement with the French or the American navy that would provide sufficient impetus for the admiralty to restore him to the Navy list. Wonderful, wonderful stuff as always. ( )
  Matt_B | Mar 26, 2016 |
After being falsely accused and convicted of a complicated investment scheme, Jack Aubrey has been cast out of the service. He's been in the Royal Navy nearly all of his life, and the separation breaks his heart. In hopes of moderating his misery, his particular friend Stephen Maturin buys the Surprise and secures a letter of marque for the ship. Aubrey can captain the Surprise once more, but this time as a privateer. It is acutely painful to him, but leads to one of his greatest professional triumphs. Stephen, meanwhile, finally meets face-to-face with Diana once more.

Everything about this book was beautiful and perfect and much-longed for. The only flaw was that the voice the narrator gives Diana Villiers is cloying and fake, and it nearly ruined my enjoyment of her scenes with Stephen. But not quite, for nothing could take away my adoration for the slow, weird ways they reconcile with each other. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
I'm returning to this series after a very long break, and I'm glad that I did. It's possible, after all, to read books wrong, which can end up spoiling the book for reasons that are nothing to do with the book itself. In the case of the Aubrey/Maturin series, the uniformity of their excellence in terms of writing, their largely character-driven, relatively shapeless novelistic plotting compared poorly, I thought, to the more intricate, complex and subtle mechanisms of Dorothy Dunnett. Of course, that's the wrong approach. They don't suffer in comparison at all. They are completely different animals. To read them for the thrill of clever plot twists that have been deviously woven into eight massive volumes is both pointless and a bit stupid, and I'm glad now that I've achieved this perspective, because the pleasures of O'Brian's novels are in some ways richer than Dunnett's, for all that Dunnett will always edge out O'Brian as one of my favourite writers.

Jack Aubrey is in a sorry state at the start of The Letter Of Marque, struck off the naval lists after a trumped-up charge, he is morose, short-tempered and depressed. Stephen Maturin has purchased The Surprise, however, and with the titular letter and a crew half of old naval hands and half of doughty pirates, they set out to restore Jack's fortunes.

The aforementioned uniformity of excellence of these novels tends to render each succeeding novel susceptible to accusations of sameness. Certainly there is progression. Each book is a chapter in the ongoing history of our heroes' friendship and careers. They age and change in circumstances and temperament. There are voyages, there are battles, there are some exchanges of intelligence, observations of flora and fauna, and occasional visits to hearth and home and family, where Jack can blunder cheerfully and Stephen can mope for his estranged wife. The story develops, the characters grow, the world opens up around them, a world so fully and perfectly realised that we come to understand that what we mistook for sameness is, in fact, recognition and comfort and familiarity. Each book gives exactly what it sets out to give, and so long as we don't mistake it for something it's not, we can fully enjoy them in all their warmth and generosity. For all love. ( )
1 vote Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
In which Aubrey and Maturin take command of the HMS Surprise, newly become a privateer. With letters of marque courtesy of Blaine, they assemble a crew and prepare for a mission to the South Americas. First, however, there remains work closer to home: the continued frustrations created by French Intelligence within the Admiralty, and opportunities for engaging the French in the Mediterranean. An abiding question: whether Aubrey's misfortunes will dilute his leadership now he is without the Royal Navy tradition.


Events close in Summer 1913? These are days between stations: still intending for South America on intelligence mission, but first seek prizes in South Atlantic and Mediterranean, and then diverted to Riga and Sweden.

Militarily: A complete sweep and return to fortune. Surprise first takes Merlin, consort to Spartan, thus learning of latter's plans against Azul. "Lord Nelson's Bridge" manoeuvre wins both Azul and Spartan, subsequently coaxing Spartan's prizes out of harbour with Merlin pretending to be consort still. Later, a cutting out of Diane and two French gunboats plus two merchantmen from St Martin's (an action which seems based in historical events). Again O'Brian plays with names: here, the Diane foreshadowing events later with Villiers.

Politically: Duhamel dies escaping to Canada; Blaine is again head of Naval Intelligence, though Wray & Ledward avoid capture and "someone high up in Admiralty" remains sympathetic. Schuyler: "However, papers found at Wray’s house implicate him in the stock scandal so that it is now obvious to all that Jack was set up." Stephen captures Paul Ségora aka Red Admiral during the Diane expedition, but Ségora later escapes disguised as woman.

Domestically: situations for both Jack and Stephen change dramatically.
● Stephen inherits his godfather's considerable fortune, and purchases Surprise to ensure he and Jack may continue their South America venture; Padeen's addiction after injury in gunnery practise, leading to Stephen's unwitting weaning from laudanum; and, reconciled with Diana in Sweden, though at considerable injury. Briefly stranded on Old Scratch.
● The prizes and attendant actions propagate a sea change for Jack, in money, legal problems, naval career. Initially offered a "pardon" but is offended at the underhanded suggestion by Soames at a party of Blaine's; and, Gen Aubrey is found dead in a ditch, with Jack inheriting Woolcombe and put up for county seat by Cousin Edward. Jack promises to support Navy in Parliament and "be mild", in exchange for reinstatement.


Together with Reverse of the Medal, marks a watershed in Jack & Stephen's joint adventures. Conceivably the next book is actually the 3rd in this mini-series, with the South America mission finally taking center stage. ( )
  elenchus | Aug 25, 2015 |
Finally, Aubrey and Maturin have a stretch of (almost) unmitigated good luck. ( )
  sben | Feb 11, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (6 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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Ever since Jack Aubrey had been dismissed from the service, ever since his name, with its now meaningless seniority, had been struck off the list of post-captains, it had seemed to him that he was living in a radically different world; everything was perfectly familiar, from the smell of seawater and tarred rigging to the gentle heave of the deck under his feet, but the essence was gone and he was a stranger.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393309053, Paperback)

When Jack Aubrey is unfairly deprived of his commission in the Royal Navy, Stephen Maturin comes to the rescue, purchasing the captain's former ship and outfitting it as a privateer, to be commanded by...Jack Aubrey. Soon the Surprise is off to sea, on a mission that Aubrey hopes will redeem his good name. The author's grasp of period detail is astonishing as ever--and so is his gift for pure entertainment.

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

(see all 3 descriptions)

Jack Aubrey, a former sea-officer in the British Navy and still bitter about his court-martial, agrees to take command of his old ship, the Surprise, which was sold to Dr. Stephen Maturin, who obtained a letter of marque to the use the ship as a privateer.… (more)

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W.W. Norton

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

Editions: 0393309053, 0393028747

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