The Thirteen-Gun Salute by Patrick O'Brian
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Out of all of O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series up to this point, The Thirtheen-Gun Salute gets further away from the sea battles and life aboard ship to really delve into the interior of a new and exciting frontier (in the eyes of the characters as set in a pre-"Planet Earth" world) and paints a not-always-pretty picture of diplomacy in the Far East as it was some 200 years ago. O'Brian describes Maturin's romp into the countryside in such flowing and absorbing detail that it reads as vividly as watching any of those fancy nature programs David Attenborough makes.
There are no naval battles in this, the thirteenth episode of the saga. I mention it because that is such a big draw for many who read these kinds of books. However, this is Patrick O'Brian we're talking about, so all the rest that makes up this book is well worth the reading, because the reading makes you feel as if you're living it. You get the sense of an early 19th century voyage around the globe. You feel the tension of a diplomatic mission that may sway the war one way or another in this part of the world. You climb the 1000 steps to the ancient Buddhist temple where it shouldn't be on an island in Muslim Malaysia, and there you connect on a personal level with an orangutan. It's all amazingly detailed.
But action? No, this one's not filled with action. That being said, our courageous hero Captain Aubrey is still busy. He has a ship to run while contending with an envoy whose inflating sense of self may threaten everything.
Intelligence agent, naturalist and ship's surgeon Dr. Maturin takes center stage for much of The Thirteen-Gun Salute. It is a part of his character arc that culminates in a satisfactory, if somewhat devious, finish of a storyline that has been going on and on for book after previous book.
This is a gorgeous and subtle piece of fiction that can be enjoyed by fans beyond the action/adventure genre that one would assume it is. If you're new to the series, perhaps don't start with this book, but otherwise, this is highly recommended!
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