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The Thirteen-Gun Salute by Patrick O'Brian

The Thirteen-Gun Salute (1989)

by Patrick O'Brian

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Aubrey-Maturin (13)

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English (17)  Spanish (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (19)
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The Thirteen Gun Salute, Patrick O’Brian’s thirteenth book in his Aubrey-Maturin series, picks up shortly after the events of The Letter of Marque, with Captain Jack Aubrey taking the private ship Surprise on a mission to South America in order to foil French interests in the Spanish colonies. Due to the routing of their intelligence service, however, the admiralty must find a way to make the mission more innocuous by sending Jack on a diplomatic mission to to the Indies prior to a roundabout trip back to England by way of South America. As part of this, following Jack’s success in the prior two books, the admiralty restores him to the naval lists and puts him in command of the Diane, which he captured during the events of The Letter of Marque. Stephen accompanies him and they plan to rendezvous with Surprise in the South China Sea once their diplomatic mission is complete.

The novel’s title comes from the practice of saluting envoys with thirteen guns (pg. 93) and the particular envoy in question, Edward Fox, works to persuade the Sultan of Pulo Prabang to become an English ally in order to secure the trade of the East Indies Company. Much of the story focuses on Fox’s self-importance, which slowly grows into insufferableness over the course of the story and upsets naval decorum. Upon reaching their destination, O’Brian demonstrates how distance delays bad news, with characters hearing rumors about a run on the market back home (pg. 155). Meanwhile, Dr. Steven Maturin spends his time with naturalist Cornelius van Buren, who offers intelligence to benefit the English efforts. Through Steven, O’Brian explores more of the culture of the island, its politics and entertainment, as well as a remote Buddhist temple where Steven has the joy to see many rare animals in their natural habitat.

In a fun example of misremembered history that lends further verisimilitude to his characters, O’Brian portrays Jack attempting to teach the midshipmen history, specifically about the American Revolution. Jack asks, “Do you know how it began,” leading to the following exchange:
“‘Yes, sir. It was about tea, which they did not choose to pay duty on. They called out No reproduction without copulation and tossed it into Boston harbour.’
“Jack frowned, considered, and said, ‘Well, in any event they accomplished little or nothing at sea, that bout’” (pg. 147).
Recalling events from Master and Commander, Jack runs into the nephew of the French officer that captured the crew of the Sophie in that first novel. As neither are in a position to fight the other, they exchange pleasantries and, learning of the French hardship and inability to purchase stores or make speedy repairs, Jack repays the kindness he received while a prisoner of war by easing the Frenchman’s want for food, thus demonstrating the gentlemanly nature of war in this time (pgs. 228-229). In what may be an act of foreshadowing, the Sultan of Pulo Prabang counts among his titles “the Nutmeg of Consolation” (pg. 182), which is the title of the following book. Like a few others in the series, this story ends on something of a cliffhanger, though readers will enjoy the characters despite the lack of battles in this particular novel.

Like the previous six novels, The Thirteen Gun Salute exists outside the normal flow of time – this novel being the seventh of twelve to exist in what O’Brian described as an extended 1812, with these dozen books taking place between the beginning of June 1813 and November 1813. The specific reference to Jack taking command of Diane on the “fifteenth day of May in the fifty-third year of His Majesty’s reign” (pg. 107) may, perhaps, situate this book in 1814. Those looking for a perfect chronology are advised to simply enjoy the story and the way in which O’Brian perfectly recreates the world of the Napoleonic Wars, using Aubrey and Stephen’s activities to comment on the rapid changes occurring in this era and the passage of time in the series’ internal chronology. This Folio Society edition reprints the original text with insets containing historical portraits and sketches to illustrate some of the scenes. ( )
1 vote DarthDeverell | Mar 19, 2019 |
In which the planned mission of privateer Surprise in support of an independent South America is exposed to the Spanish, forcing a new mission aboard HMS Diane to the East Indies. Aubrey & Maturin escort Edward Fox, as British envoy a personage who merits a thirteen-gun salute. Their joint objective: secure a pact with Sultan of Pulo Prabang, before same can be reached by the French (efforts led by Ledward & Wray).


In narrative asides and Stephen's own musings, we learn of his revolutionary past for Irish independence, and 2 new names surface: Mona, an "old sweetheart" and Robert Gough a fellow radical for independence but one espousing alliance with France (United Irishmen), which Stephen rejects.

Observing penguins and a whale swimming as though in an aquarium tank, due to heavy swell and unusually clear waters near Inaccessible Island. A memorable hike to the Kumai Temple within an elevated crater on Borneo. Unorthodox autopsies with Van Buren, thereby and not incidentally disposing of cadavers.

"Lucky" Jack finally is reinstated to the Naval List in this, the thirteenth installment: is this number O'Brian's inspiration for the idea of an envoy? Aboard Diane, Jack takes measurements for Humboldt on salinity & sea temperatures.

The Diane avoids breaching against Inaccessible Island, only to run aground an uncharted reef in the East Indies (on which Welby's marines show their mettle in the face of a typhoon).

Events proceed from May "in the 53rd year of His Majesty's reign", and close unspecified months later.

Indebted to Schuyler's "Butcher's Bill" for chronology and names, and multiple cross-references. ( )
  elenchus | Nov 14, 2016 |
Now that Aubrey is restored to the King's Navy once more, he's off on another mission, this time to Malaysia. His particular friend, Dr.Stephen Maturin, is along to spy on the French's forces in Malaysia. The diplomatic mission goes well, not least because Maturin disgraces and then kills the leading French diplomats. (This plot line is one of those masterful strokes that O'Brian is so excellent at. For the first half of the book, Maturin and Fox often practice their long distance shooting as part of a friendly competition. Later, Maturin befriends an anatomist and has amusingly detached conversations with him. Maturin stays in a brothel and watches the French. All of these minor little background moments come together in one stunning scene, when Maturin turns up on the anatomist's doorstop with an unnamed body with a precise bullet hole, and they dispassionately dissect it. It's stunning and cold.) On the way home, the ship is wrecked on uncharted reefs, and the crew is stranded on a small island.

O'Brian has a talent for the long game, giving little clues and hints that slowly build to a crescendo. He's unafraid of making his characters unlikable, or absurd, which in turn makes them actually far more interesting. ( )
1 vote wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
After a while it gets hard to gauge these books, but this seems like one of the better of the bunch, with a little bit of everything that's great about O'Brian's series: political intrigue, Maturin's scientific investigations, a bit of cover intelligence work, and of course some drama on the high seas. ( )
  JBD1 | Dec 13, 2012 |
What is amazing to me is how Stephen can be so detached from his passions and feelings of revenge! There is a great scene in this book that is quite macabre but is written in such a detached way that a less careful reader might miss it entirely. Once again Jack earns his "lucky" moniker and the study of men and characters continues to interest. ( )
1 vote tjsjohanna | Jun 8, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patrick O'Brianprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brown, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hunt, GeoffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tull, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In spite of the hurry, many wives and many sweethearts had come to see the ship off, and those members of her company who were not taken up with sailing her on her difficult course close-hauled to the brisk south-east breeze, watched the white flutter of their handkerchiefs far across the water until Black Point hid them entirely, shut them right out.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 039330907X, Paperback)

Will Napoleon Bonaparte form an alliance with the Malay princes of the South China Sea? Not if Jack Aubrey can help it. Conveying a diplomatic mission to the Sultan's court, Aubrey and company must also contend with orangutans, typhoons, and a squadron of wily French envoys.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:04 -0400)

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Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin set sail for the South China Sea. At the barbaric court of Pulo Prabang, the stage is set for a duel of intelligence agents, pitting Stephen against the French envoys.

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W.W. Norton

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

Editions: 039330907X, 0393029743

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