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The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian

The Fortune of War (1979)

by Patrick O'Brian

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Aubrey-Maturin (6)

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This was another good book in the Aubrey-Maturin series. I never get tired of the quality of the author's writing, or with the tales of derring-do. ( )
  oparaxenos | Nov 27, 2015 |
The Fortune of War picks up only a few days after where Desolation Island had ended, affirming my impession that by now we’re dealing with an ongoing single novel rather than a series of stringed-together separate novels.Which would make this the sixth chapter in O’Brian’s massive novel The Naval Adventures of Jack Aubrey & Stephen Maturin (a terminology I am going to stick with from now on. Probably.)

What is interesting about this volume in particular is how just when O’Brian seems to have settled down in a comfortable routine and has the novel chuffing along nicely he starts to mess with stuff and play around with his own formula (some slight spoiler in what is following are unfortunately unavoidable). The Fortune of War has a basic structure similar to HMS Surprise, i.e. we get a quiet stretch in the middle sandwiched between two action pieces of naval battle at the beginning and at the end of this chapter, all of it told with O’Brian’s customary verve and brio that keeps even those passages where nothing much is happening lively and interesting.

Against this foil of the familiar, then, the ways The Fortune of War deviates from business as usual contrast all the sharper – the most surprising to me at least being that Jack does not command a ship during the whole of this chapter, and that it are other Captains who fight the sea battles while he is just an onlooker or a minor participant. In fact he is unusually passive during all the events depicted here and we’re getting the unusual situation where Steve exercises considerably more agency than Jack does. This, after five chapters where things have been the other way round, gives a slightly off-kilter feeling to The Fortune of War, of things being just faintly out of balance and not in proper focus. It also expands the canvas of O’Brian’s novel even more, by showing as a different perspective on a naval battle than the command deck or the surgeon’s cabin. In short, The Naval Adventures of Jack Aubrey & Stephen Maturin continue to delight, and even manage to spring the occasional surprise on the reader. I’m still wondering whether O’Brian will manage to keep this up over the remaining fourteen chapters, but I’m very eager to find out.
1 vote Larou | Jun 22, 2015 |
Very good examples of backstory covered naturally and all kept interesting despite a sea battle being a sea battle in 22 books. Excellent series.
James-MEOW Date: Sunday, July 8. 12014 H.E. (Holocene Era) ( )
  MEOWDate | Jul 15, 2014 |
The sixth Aubry/Maturin — and they keep getting better and better, Brian finds the two friends prisoners of the Americans, the War of 1812 having begun. And not auspiciously for the British. The Americans with a completely volunteer navy (no press gangs for them) have been more than competently trained by their British cousins and have become more than a match for the British, who have become used to sweeping the seas of all opposition. The British have been blockading Boston and, to their humiliation, have had three excellent frigates sunk or captured.

The French and an American intelligence officer, Johnson, who in the meantime has become the consort of the lovely Diana Villiers — Stephen’s heartthrob — who has been known to pass [b:on intelligence|1185416|La Voie et sa vertu = Tao-tê-king (Points Sagesses ; 16 ISSN 0339-4239)|Laozi|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1181735892s/1185416.jpg|100074] herself, suspect Jack of intelligence gathering. Stephen, the professional spy and amateur ornithologist, is acutely aware of the damage his spying has done to the French and he narrowly evades their clutches. The pair and Diana escape with the assistance of a friendly American and sail out to the Shannon, Captain Broke. Broke is a cousin of Jack’s and a magnificent seaman. Soon the Chesapeake sails out of Boston to give chase and battle. Knowing they will be hung if caught, the trio have an avid interest in the outcome of the battle. Diana is armed with some small pistols to shoot rats and boarders if necessary. She has been moved from the master’s quarters to the forepeak, away from the action and below the waterline, as the officers cabins are broken down to clear the decks for battle. Stephen visits her before the action to fortify her spirits (she suffers dreadfully from seasickness). “ ‘Oh,’ she said, and absently took three spoonfuls of the soup. ‘Lord above, what is this?’ “ ‘Soup. Portable soup. Pray take a little more; it will rectify the humours.’ “ ‘I thought it was like-warm glue. But it goes down quite well if you don’t breathe.’ She ate on until a cockroach fell into the can from a beam above, when Stephen took the can and put it down among the other cockroaches on the deck.”

The scene becomes vivid as they shoot the bolder rats. How could one not enjoy this kind of writing? But you will have to read Fortune of War to learn the outcome of the battle.

( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
In which Aubrey and Maturin sail home from the East Indian Ocean with the packet HMS La Fleche, having left HMS Leopard as unsuitable for any service except cargo after its dramatic passage in the South Forties. Their return is interrupted by a fatal ship fire, and eventually they find themselves in HMS Java just in time for its historic and losing battle with the USS Constitution. Ashore in Boston, Aubrey is hospitalized for wounds sustained in the latter action (only just having recovered from his exploits in Leopard), while Maturin ratchets up the intelligence pressures with the French, very much active in the U.S. with the outbreak of hostilities between the Americans and British. The key question: whether Aubrey & Maturin can return home before either politics, espionage, or a side plot involving Diane Villiers and her American husband forfeit their lives.


Jack interrogated by the Americans, led by Johnson, who mistake him as the source of Stephen's misinformation campaign through Louisa Wogan. Stephen and other officers also prisoners of war but at large awaiting the standard prisoner exchange with British authorities at Halifax. Stephen's spy business with Poncet-Canet & Dubreuil gets nasty, including assassination and carriage chases. What was hinted at in Desolation Island is fleshed out, and Stephen's activities come to the fore.

The first but not last instance of Stephen proposing to Diane, both out of personal affection and a desire to deliver her from her private entanglements. That these two separate reasons are entwined will prove a source of near constant difficulty: Stephen does not feel he is Diane's equal, and unintentionally snubs her by over-emphasising the practical side of marriage. A subtle twist on the classic battle between the sexes.

Jack and Stephen in three separate ships this installment, though the tale this time gives strongest impression of days between stations, so strongly is it linked to the immediately preceding story and left almost hanging at the end, awaiting the next. Not to mention all the time ashore. (Apart from the coda in the Leopard, they are aboard La Fleche, Java, and ultimately HMS Shannon in its dramatic encounter with USS Chesapeake.)

Is the episode in La Fleche's launch an hommage to Bligh as told in Men Against the Sea?

Jack's memorable joke about the two weevils is here, in Chapter II.

Consulting Seltzer's Chronology, the book opens around the time war is declared between the US and Great Britain in June of 1812, though Jack & Stephen don't receive word until sometime afterwards. Java and Constitution do battle four days after Christmas 1812, a week or so after picking up Jack & Stephen off Brazil. Shannon and Chesapeake meet half a year later, in June 1813. ( )
  elenchus | Feb 27, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patrick O'Brianprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hunt, GeoffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tull, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waldegrave, WilliamContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wiberg, CarlaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Mary, with love.
First words
When history and fiction intertwine, the reader may well like to know how far the recorded facts have suffered from the embrace.

Author's note.
The warm monsoon blew gently from the east, wafting HMS Leopard into the bay of Pulo Batang.

Chapter one.
It is with a certain reluctance that I write about myself, in the first place because such an exercise is very rarely successful, and even when it is, the man does not often coincide with his books, which, if the Platonic 'not who but what' is to be accepted, are the only legitimate objects of curiosity.

Black, Choleric & Married?, by Patrick O'Brian.
'Wallis,' said Maturin, 'I am happy to see you. How is your penis?'
Two weevils crept from the crumbs. 'You see those weevils, Stephen?' said Jack solemnly.
'I do.'
'Which would you choose?'
'There is not a scrap of difference. Arcades ambo. They are the same species of curculio, and there is nothing to choose between them.'
'But suppose you had to choose?'
'Then I should choose the right-hand weevil; it has a perceptible advantage in both length and breadth.'
'There I have you,' cried Jack. 'You are bit -- you are completely dished. Don't you know that in the Navy you must always choose the lesser of two weevils? Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!' [43]
'Oh dear, oh dear,' said Mr Evans. 'I seem fated to move from one blunder to another today. I shall hold my tongue for what remains of it.'
'Where would conversation be, if we were not allowed to exchange our minds freely and to abuse our neighbours from time to time?' said Stephen. [124]
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393308138, Paperback)

This time it's the War of 1812 that gets in the way of Captain Jack Aubery's plans. Caught en route to England in a dispatch vessel, Aubrey and Maturin are soon in the thick of a typically bloody naval engagement. Next stop: an American prison, from which only Maturin's cunning allows them to engineer an exit.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:34 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Jack Aubrey, commander of the best-armed frigate in the Royal Navy, leaves the Dutch East Indies to return to England in a dispatch vessel, but the outbreak of the War of 1812 delays his journey and draws him into bloody battle.

» see all 9 descriptions

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W.W. Norton

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

Editions: 0393308138, 0393037061

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