Friday, November 6, 2009

Good Napoleonic Naval Books vs Boring Ones

Sometimes I get a bug up my butt and have to write about something that irritates me and I hit primary irritation today so I'm putting fingers to keyboard and sounding off on a con and a pro. I don't ordinarily like to condemn without offering a replacement of greater value, in this case a story with a strong storyline vs. a weak storyline, in my opinion!

sI've been trying to get into the books of Patrick O'Brien and I'm having a very difficult time of it. I decided to listen to some recorded audiobooks by this author after watching the Russell Crowe movie, "Master and Commander". That title meaning a rank below full captain in the British Navy of that era(American equivalent would be the rank of Commander). I found the film to be very enjoyable and action packed, I love that genre where men were less than equal to the sea and you were required to know what you were doing or die trying. I digress. I guess that I made one mistake prior to starting the O'Brien books by listening to the book by David Cordingly called, "Cochrane The Real Master and Commander", which is about Lord Thomas Cochrane, who held this rank in the British Navy. The O'Brien books and the Hornblower novels were loosely based on Lord Cochrane's life and times by David Cordingly, which were pretty interesting to listen to. O'Brien has taken this bigger-than-life King's Navy Officer and turned him into a pansy by the name of Jack Aubrey.
I'm trying to get through the O'Brien book, "Post Captain", but I think I'm going to erase the files because it's painfully boring. I almost fell asleep while driving (which I never do) listening to this rubbish. A sea captain that has an adventure on land by going into debt and running away when payment is due. Wow, what seafaring action! Watching grass grow is more interesting. How many times must one hear about a woman's complexion. I want to hear about naval engagements, tacking in a northerly gale, fighting off a lee shore, whatever so long as it's water based adventures, not a lively gallop after a fox or two.

I honestly don't know why people put so much stock into the books of Patrick O'Brien when there are better authors out there that can hold you to your seat with a rousing attack on Algerian pirates or taking a prize ship from 'Old Boney' Bonaparte. Seriously, anyone who enjoys a good seafaring storyline with many books in the series to keep you entertained, I recommend, highly recommend, Douglas Reeman, aka Alexander Kent, and his Richard Bolitho novels. These books take you through his entire naval career from midshipman to admiral and then on to his nephew Adam's career in the British Navy. I bought the first book because I was desperate for a good seafaring novel after I read all the Hornblower books and I ended up buying the entire Bolitho series of 27 books before I realized I read that many books. I've read them all twice, at least, and still enjoy the story. I can see a similarity with C.S. Forester's Hornblower character but I have no discomfort placing myself within the Bolitho character while reading the books and that's a very good thing. There wasn't a night I would go to bed and not read several pages of a book. The Adam Bolitho series is equally stirring. One thing that stands out is the time-line and the progression up through the ranks. There is no "it's been 3 years now since I took command of the 32 gun frigate Whatever and assumed the rank of Post Captain". No, Kent takes you through the process with all it's ups and downs along with the politics involved in government and the Admiralty in general. You actually feel like your right there with Bolitho and his men in the action.

In conclusion, if your like me and enjoy the era of fighting, sailing ships of the late 18th and early 19th century's then the Alexander Kent "Bolitho" books are for you 100%. Pass on the O'Brien books unless you like reading about ship's officers fox hunting, losing money, chasing young girls hungry for a man with money and position, horses, dirt, dancing, and oh yes he did eat dinner on a ship after quite a long time (not his ship though). If you have read the Aubrey Maturin books then try Bolitho. I guarantee you will not be disappointed!


TONY said...

jeeze, I've read the Aubrey/Maturin series at least three times, each time enjoying it more. I've not read the series you mention, but I can't understand why the O'Brien series would be difficult to get into. Perhaps the Maturin figure (ship's surgeon and Admiralty spy) is a bit too dry (there is some great humor, though). I thought it gave a nice texture to the whole of life for naval officers during that time, not just firing cannon, boarding, then hacking and slashing.

Dave said...

You've hit the main thought right on the button. That's what I love about the Kent series. It follows the main character, like the Hornblower books, right through retirement and the family taking up where the main character leaves off with a different set of 'adventures' following the historic time-lines given. I never liked the way Aubrey always skips out on his debtors with a flair since this would have been looked down on by the Admiralty of the time and not conducive to a successful naval career in the proper British Navy of the era. I don't know, it just makes him look like a person that writes bad checks and runs away with a smile on their face afterwards.

Dave said...

I actually appreciate the Maturin character and I believe that's one of the redeeming aspects of the series. Once Lucky Jack gets on dry land it seems the story's flounder and I have a hard time getting back into the story again. I'm rambling now and I'm going to stop. I do appreciate your comments and I'm glad to see there are others that appreciate this genre of book as much as I enjoy them, regardless of the authors.