Aubrey–Maturin series: Your Complete Reading Order for Patrick O’Brian’s nautical adventures

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All Hands on Deck!

The story of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin

If you want to set sail, there is no better duo to do it with than Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. The duo is at the center of Patrick O’Brian’s nautical historical novels set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Captain Jack Aubrey is a charismatic and skilled leader, with many great interests including mathematics, astronomy, and music. He plays the violin and can sing, often accompanied by friends and shipmates.

Aubrey enjoys playing music with his friend and ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin, who plays the cello. Maturin is a physician, naturalist, and spy in the Royal Navy. He’s also a skilled linguist, being fluent in English, French, Irish, Spanish, Latin, Catalan, and with some knowledge of other languages thanks to his travels. Despite this aptitude, Maturin failed to grasp naval jargon or the workings of a ship, for obvious narrative reasons: this way, technical information can be communicated to the readers by a crew member explaining how things work to the surgeon.

The Aubrey–Maturin series in Publication Order

O’Brian’s books were written and released in the same order as the events they depict, starting with Master and Commander, which takes place in 1800. Most of the series is set during the Napoleonic Wars.

To begin with… The first six books cover the first twelve years of the 19th century, from 18 April 1800 to June 1813, with The Fortune of War concluding with the battle between HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake.

Master and Commander (1969)
Post Captain (1972)
HMS Surprise (1973)
The Mauritius Command (1977)
Desolation Island (1978)
The Fortune of War (1979)

More sea adventures! From this point on, time drastically slows down, even though the events depicted in those stories will take place over a longer period than the initial few months. The magic of books is that they transport you to a sort of fantasy version of our reality where characters may experience more adventures in less time than if they were actually happening. The next volumes progress towards November 1813.

The Surgeon’s Mate (1980)
The Ionian Mission (1981)
Treason’s Harbour (1983)
The Far Side of the World (1984)
The Reverse of the Medal (1986)
The Letter of Marque (1988)
The Thirteen-Gun Salute (1989)
The Nutmeg of Consolation (1991)
Clarissa Oakes (1992) (published as The Truelove in the US)
The Wine-Dark Sea (1993)
The Commodore (1995)

The end of the war is here! The British army under the Duke of Wellington has entered France from Spain and we enter the last portion of the Napoleonic Wars.

The Yellow Admiral (1996)
The Hundred Days (1998)

To conclude… The last adventures of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are set after the Napoleonic Wars.

Blue at the Mizzen (1999)
The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (2004) (published as 21 in the US)

To accompany… during your adventures at sea, following is some companion readings:

The Patrick O’Brian Mapping Project, an excellent website to follow closely the voyages of Jack Aubrey et Stephen Maturin.
Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, a gastronomic companion book, to eat like Aubrey and Maturin!

More About The Aubrey–Maturin series

To read or not to read the books in order?

If you find yourself in the position of reading a book in the series without prior knowledge of the other nautical adventures, remember that Patrick O’Brian wrote the novels to be accessible to everyone, therefore they can all be read as stand-alone. Having said that, we still encourage reading them in order of publication to appreciate the inside jokes, character growth, and their extensive history with one other.

What is the total number of novels in the series?

The Aubrey-Maturin series is a collection of 20 completed and one unfinished naval historical novels. There are no short stories.

The inspiration behind The Aubrey-Maturin series

Master and Commander wasn’t Patrick O’Brian’s first sea novel. He published The Golden Ocean in 1956, followed by The Unknown Shore in 1959. Both of them are centered on a pair of friends during George Anson’s voyage around the world. Those books can feel like prototypes for the Aubrey-Maturin series.

The career and life of Scottish naval officer Thomas Cochrane are also an obvious source of inspiration for the character of Jack Aubrey, while Stephen Maturin could be inspired by several men like physician Augustus Bozzi Granville or Dr. James Guthrie.

Though there were many other sources of inspiration for those books, it is impossible to not evoke Sir Joseph Banks, a naturalist and explorer for which O’Brian has wrote a biography, Joseph Banks: A Life.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the movie

The Aubrey-Maturin series was adapted into an epic period-drama in 2003, co-written, directed and produced by Peter Weir. The movie isn’t a straight adaptation of one novel but takes elements from several books, including The Far Side of the World.

Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany star as Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, respectively. The movie was filmed on the open sea and replica ships.

Master and Commander was critically acclaimed and even received 10 nominations at the 76th Academy Awards in 2004. t won the awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing, but couldn’t really compete with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King this year (nominated for 11 awards).

Today, Master and Commander is still a celebrated movie, and there is often rumor of another movie – more recently there were talks about a prequel.

About Patrick O’Brian

Patrick O’Brian (1914-2000) was a celebrated English writer and translator known for his Aubrey-Maturin series of sea novels set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Richard Patrick Russ was born in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, on December 12, 1914. He subsequently changed his name to Patrick O’Brian. Coming from a big family, he never had a strong relationship with his father and lost his mother while he was young.

When he was younger and first saw the water and boats, he intended to enlist in the Navy but had to give it up due to his fragile health, which resulted in his being declared unfit.

He started writing boys’ adventure stories when he was still a child. WWII ended O’Brian’s early writing period, during which he worked in the Foreign Office’s secretive Political Intelligence Division, where he met Mary Wicksteed Tolstoy. O’Brian was already married at the time, and he eventually abandoned his wife, his three-year-old boy, and a handicapped baby to go off with Mary Tolstoy. At least, his affair grew into a long, happy, and honorable marriage.

The O’Brians were a very private couple who, at times, lived in poverty in Wales and southern France. O’Brian translated Simone de Beauvoir and other writers to make ends meet.

Beginning in 1969, O’Brian began work on what would become the 20-volume Aubrey-Maturin novel series. He worked on the series until his death in 2000.

For more stories set during the Napoleonic wars, complement with the Hornblower Saga by C.S. Forrester, then the complete adventures of Bernard Cornwell’s hero Sharpe.