The Letter of Marque, Paperback Book
5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin tales are widely acknowledged to be the greatest series of historical novels ever written.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of their beginning, with Master and Commander, these evocative stories are being re-issued in paperback with smart new livery.

This is the twelfth book in the series. Jack Aubrey is a naval officer, a post-captain of experience and capacity.

When The Letter of Marque opens he has been struck off the Navy List for a crime he has not committed.

With Aubrey is his friend and ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin, who is also an unofficial British intelligence agent.

Maturin has bought for Aubrey his old ship the Surprise, so that the misery of ejection from the service can be palliated by the command of what Aubrey calls a `private man-of-war' - a letter of marque, a privateer.

Together they sail on a voyage which, if successful, might restore Aubrey to the rank, and the raison d'etre, whose loss he so much regrets. Around these simple, ostensibly familar elements Patrick O'Brian has written a novel of great narrative power, exploring his extraordinary world once more, in a tale full of human feeling and rarely matched in its drama.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical adventure
  • ISBN: 9780006499275

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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

I am reading this as part of a complete read through of the whole series, although I am reading other books in between helpings of O'Brian.It took less than 20 pages to make me realise (for the umpteenth time) just how much knowledge of the human mind, elegance and fleetness of expression there is in these books.This first chapter shows us how Jack is coping with his dismissal from the navy. The extra dimension to our familiar conflicts between Jack and Stephen with regard to catching the tide in that Stephen now owns the ship. This is a fact which Jack knows only with the very uppermost tip of his mind. Stephens moral attitude to his sudden vast wealth and it's impact on him. His amusement at seeing the almost opposite impact of far more modest wealth on his friend Martin.Oh yes its good to be back reading O'Brian again.If you haven't tried them then you owe it to yourself to give them a go.Must go - which that vittles is up

Review by

Oh, these books are so good. This one, in particular, is very nearly as exciting and engrossing than the previous, which renders it pretty damned splendid indeed. I don't have time to write a longer review, as I must get on and read the next one...

Review by

In the last volume of the wonderful Maturin/Aubrey series, Jack had been court-martialed for what appeared to be his complicity in a stock market fraud. Being a naïve landlubber, he had no idea of what he was being fraudulently involved in, thought he was just helping someone out and making a killing in the meantime. He was kicked out of the navy and removed from the post-captain’s list, eliminating all his accumulated seniority. Stephen, having come into a considerable fortune, purchased The Surprise, Jack’s old ship, and bought a letter of marque so Jack could operate as a legal privateer. <br/><br/>Having been sent on a special mission (remember that he is still an English secret agent), Stephen obtained a special exemption for the men of The Surprise to prevent them from being pressed into service should they be stopped by an English naval vessel. O'Brian really has a delightful way of writing. Here's another example of that wry humor that pervades his books. Russell is declaiming how all Frenchmen are worthless and uses as examples some French proverbial expressions, ". . .when the French wish to describe anything mighty foul they say, 'sal come un peigne', which gives you a pretty idea of their personal cleanliness. When they have other things to occupy their mind they say they have other cats to whip: a most inhuman thing to do [at least we beat dead horses] And when they are going to put a ship about, the order is 'a- Diue-va', or 'we must chance it and trust to God', which gives you some notion of their seamanship." One can only guess about O'Brian's early relationship with publishers, but from numerous comments made by a variety of characters, I suspect it was not a happy one: "You were telling me about publishers," asks Stephen of Mowett. “ ‘Yes , sir: I was about to say they were the most hellish procrastinators--' " 'Oh, how dreadful,' cried Fanny. 'Do they go to special houses, or do they . . .' " 'He means they delay,' said Babbington." O'Brian was a big fan of opium apparently, for Maturin is constantly singing its praises as a cure for all sorts of ills, and when queried about its ostensible addictive qualities, he replied in this book: "The objections come only from a few unhappy beings, Jansenists for the most part, who also condemn wine, agreeable food, music and the company of women: they even call out against coffee, for all love! Their objections are valid solely in the case of a few poor souls with feeble willpower, who would just as easily become the victims of intoxicating liquors, and who are practically moral imbeciles, often addicted to other forms of depravity; otherwise it is no more injurious than smoking tobacco." One learns all sorts of interesting things. Jack returns to his ship only to discover the word Seth written on the side. <br/><br/>The Sethians were a Gnostic Christian group who believed that Cain and Abel were brought into the world by angels, and that Seth, who was born after Abel’s murder, was the Almighty’s direct and pure creation. Anyway, there were pockets of Sethians scattered throughout England and, naturally, there were two schools of Sethians, the old that wrote the S backwards, and the new that wrote it in the conventional manner. Unlike Quakers, “they have no dislike for warfare,” so Jack has several Sethian sailors who celebrated recent good fortune by honoring Seth by painting his name on the side of the ship. When ordered to remove the name, they refused, not wishing to dishonor Seth. What makes this interesting is Jack’s novel way of making everyone happy. Rather clever, I thought. (Check out the Sethians on the web. They have a rather different perspective on the universe.)

Review by

Finally, Aubrey and Maturin have a stretch of (almost) unmitigated good luck.

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