Original review by Atomic Moo contributor, Neko_Bijin. The opinions expressed in this review may not necessarily reflect those of Atomic Moo; however, buy Atomic Moo a few rounds, and tell her how pretty she is, and maybe she’ll start ‘flecting them opinions more…
OK, this is a little bit complicated, so we’re doing bullet points.
What follows is a review of the first novel of the series, titled Master and Commander, which has an entirely different plot from the movie.
Master and Commander
Like every reader of genre fiction (horror, sci-fi, Western, etc.), I occasionally fancy the notion that I could write a passable adventure if I put my mind to it. Reading a book like Master and Commander is a good reminder that no, I couldn’t. The book does everything right from the meet-cute of the two main characters (at a violin recital) to the final clash on the high seas with the dreaded French (who invite captive Englishmen to breakfast at the Captain’s table during a fire fight!). The jokes are actually funny, and the action is really tense. (You know the main character won’t be killed of course, but will he escape with his reputation and his line of credit intact?)
If you want to understand what the sailors are saying to each other you’ll need a dictionary, but it isn’t necessary to follow the action. During the battles all the nautical jargon just reads like Star Trek technobabel: you get the idea even if the words don’t mean anything to you. Also, the author was very smart to make a non-sailor, the ship’s surgeon Dr. Maturin, a main character of the novel. He’s constantly asking for exposition at just the right moment so the reader doesn’t get lost.
There’s a lot going on in this novel. The Captain has to balance the demands of his career and of his mistresses. The doctor is involved in some political intrigue with the first officer. Ships are maneuvering in the wind and blasting each other to smithereens. You can focus on the bits you enjoy the most and ignore the rest. I tuned out completely during the explanation on rigging the sails, but for some reason the breakfast scenes fascinated me. (Example: the officers keep a live goat on board the ship so they can have fresh milk in their tea.)
For some reason I thought before I read it that this was a kid’s book, like Treasure Island, but it isn’t so. Nearly every chapter has a reference, however oblique, to homosexuality or sodomy aboard the ship, once involving the aforementioned goat. The captain gets drunk at an officer’s party and makes a loud crack about his sailors roaming the town with their pricks a yard long, then he calls out to the admirals’ wives not to worry because his ship won’t dock for a few hours owing to the tides. He manages to escape on his ship the next morning before anyone demotes him to cabin boy, but it’s a close shave.
Master and Commander is one of the best-selling novels of all time. (Who knew?) Your parents probably own a copy, and your local library certainly does.