I’ll be totally honest here: I read this book because I saw the movie version first. There were other reasons, of course – this book (and the entire series) is generally well-reviewed, and my dad is a huge fan of the series. But mostly I picked this up because I freaking love the movie and wanted to see how the book matched up.
Very well, it turns out. Although some good parts from the movie are missing here (like that adorable kid who gets his arm amputated), I didn’t mind – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is based off two O’Brian books, after all, so I was only getting about half of the story presented in the movie.
This is just a good, fun seafaring yarn, with guns and explody things and general Manly Adventures (“In times of stress Jack Aubrey had two main reactions: he either became aggressive or he became amorous; he longed either for the violent catharsis of action or for that of making love. He loved a battle: he loved a wench.”) and lots and lots of sea battles. O’Brian has a great preface where he assures us that all of the battles described are completely possible, and based on actual historical accounts, which is pretty cool – especially considering the battles. The book is chock-full of sailor shop-talk, but the nice thing was that I could still get a sense of what was going on, even if I couldn’t tell a mizzen staysail from a jib or understand what exactly everyone was talking about.
But the best part, and something I’m glad survived into the movie version, is the glorious bromance between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Their meet-cute in the first chapter is worthy of a romantic comedy: Maturin snaps at Aubrey for beating incorrect time along with the music at a concert, Aubrey challenges him, and then when they run into each other the next day Aubrey apologizes and they have dinner together. It only gets better from there – they argue, discuss politics and language, and (literally) make beautiful music together. Maturin frequently tells Aubrey that he should lose some weight, and Aubrey has to remind Maturin to put on his silk stockings before they go out. They were perfectly delightful together, and their rapport is the reason I’ll seek out the next book in the series.
Verdict: four out of five stars