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Publisher's Summary

At the opening of his third novel in an ongoing adventure series by Patrick O'Brian, Jack Aubrey is cruising off Cape Sicie when his friend Stephen Maturin (more serenely situated in Sussex) is informed of the Board's decision regarding Aubrey's prize money, taken after victorious engagement with a Spanish squadron at Cape Santa Maria. The money, five million pieces of eight, is not, as is the custom of war, to be divided among the crews of the four victorious vessels, but is to be treated as droits of the Crown of England. Five million pounds is, after all, five million pounds.

It will be a hard rub for Aubrey, who had counted on that money to clear his debts and make himself a suitable match, but no more hard than for Maturin who spends much of his free time at Mapes Court in the company of the lovely Sophia Williams, Aubrey's betrothed. How could Stephen deliver the news that would break Sophia's heart?

When Jack docks at Portsmouth, he is clapped in irons forthwith, and carried off to a sponging house for debtors. Jack knows a prisoner can rot in jail, so when Sir Joseph graciously offers him escape aboard the H.M.S. Surprise, bound for the East Indies, he makes for the only place where his unsteady virtue remains intact: the sea.

Don't miss the rest of the Aubrey/Maturin series.
©1973 Patrick O'Brian (P)2003 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

"O'Brian knows his history and sailing, as is evident in the rich particulars....Stretching its genre but never escaping it, the novel will impress those who enjoy swashbucklers." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Craig
  • Seattle, WA, United States
  • 02-03-08

India as thorough as Conrad

Recall your personal explorations of Joseph Conrad; Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, et al. Remember how Conrad's descriptive narrative put you in the locales of his protagonists? Now, place Jack Aubrey and Steven Maturin in Conrad's "Orient," and breathe in, observe, and encounter the rich, diverse, yet painful realities of Imperial England's dalliances with India. Blend in storms, battles, and human intrigue...what is your reward? H.M.S. Surprise, a brilliant and insightful examination of the quest for Empire told through the eyes of our beloved Jack and Steven.

If you have made it this far in the Aubrey Series (narrated by Tull) you are richer for it. Keep going, it only gets better.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Make note of your reader

Patrick Tull and Simon Vance are both gifted narrators. However, when you start with one you may find it a jarring change when you start listening to the other. Each brings their own life to the characters, but it is a very different life. My own personal preference are the characters created by Mr. Tull, but Mr. Vance's acting is no less compelling, only different.
If you care about such things, don't make the mistake that I made, buying the edition without first checking by whom it is narrated.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Bob
  • Benton, AR, USA
  • 06-14-04

A pleasure to listen to

If you enjoyed the first 2 books you'll love this one as well. Patrick Tull continues to provide really superb narration: he excels at weaving through the naval jargon, and pays particular attention to the dialog.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Robert
  • Maple Grove, MN, USA
  • 11-22-04

A superb series

A rivetting story, with very good historical detail. Make sure you listen to the unabridged book (you don't want to miss anything), with Patrick Tull reading (an excellent reader).

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 04-04-11

HMS Surprise

This is the third book in the series I had finished the first two. It is great to follow them in order. Unfortunately I started toward the end and then saw Audible has them all so started with the beginning and will go forward just skipping the ones I have already read. Patrick Tull is the perfect reader for this series. Love the information about the Royal Navy and the East Indian Company ships. Can not wait to listen to the next one and another trip into history.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Another Fun Novel

H.M.S. Surprise is the third in the Aubrey/Maturin series. As with the first two, it is a very realistic (mostly) but fictional story of life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic era, focusing on the two companions: Capt. Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin.

At the novel's start, Jack's captures from the end of Post Captain are ruled to not be prizes, putting Jack back in debt. Jack's love with Sophie continues while Stephen's romance with Diana flounders. After Jack ends up in debtor's prison, the only escape is a long trip on the Surprise to the Indian Ocean.

Although this is one of a series of novels, it is not essential to encounter them in order (at least, not for the first three; I haven't gone past this one yet). The novels combine to make a full story arc, but each one is its own self-contained story.

Warning about H.M.S. Surprise, and most of O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series: There is a great deal of nautical lingo from the age of sail with absolutely no translation for land-lubbers. If you don't know what a taffrail is, or how to tell a topsail from a t'gallant sail, a translation may be needed. Wikipedia can be your friend.

Patrick Tull's reading is very good; Audible has versions of this book read by Tull and Simon Vance. I feel that Tull is a superior story-teller who brings the book to life; his gravelly voice and (south England?) accent give the book a very nautical flair. But his strong regional accent and the older production quality might make it harder to hear. (Listen to the sample.)

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Another good listen.

I just finished listening to this book, and it is always frustrating how each book is ended leaving you wanting more. I know this is good because this is a very long series, but it is just a little odd. I have almost two weeks until I can download the next two books, and I dont know how I am going to wait. I am glad the author finaly had jack go on a somwhat normal naval trip. This was a realistic change from bounding here and there, dressing in bear's hides, sleeping with the admiral's wife, and having his ships constantly sunk. Since the name of the ship is in the title I dont think I am giving away too much by saying he kept the surprise in pretty much one piece for most of the story. I once again enjoyed the devolopment of Steven's character in the book, I find him a mystery sometimes. Although I did think this developement of stevens character was at the cost of developing Jack further. I guess this is why it is called the Aubrey/Maturin series, they will just have to share the spot light. Once again, I apreciate the Plot twists the author uses, and the false forshadowing verses true forshadowing. Overall, another good read, and I cant wait to read/listen to the sequal.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Robert
  • Gahanna, OH, USA
  • 11-18-09

Aubrey/Maturin, O'Brian/Tull

I accidently bought this book with a reader other than Tull. After about 15 minutes, I had to buy this copy. No author captures the Royal Navy like O'Brian. No reader captures O'Brian like Tull. Aubrey/Maturin & O'Brian/Tull. You'll never think of one without the other once you've listend to this series.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Used to Simon Vance

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Having caught up with all the Connoly, Grisham, Sandford, Burke, Butcher, Crais, etc. books on offer - I decided to branch out. This is a great series. Good action and new vocabulary.

What was one of the most memorable moments of H.M.S. Surprise?

When Dr. Maturin was dumped by the woman of his dreams (or nightmares - opinions vary).

Which scene was your favorite?

Dr. Maturin come to call on an elephant.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Not really. It's longish for a single go.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A Masterpiece

A truly wonderful story, populated with rich, characterizations and terrific background. I've listened to the first two in this series and in my estimation, this is the best. Great sea yarn along with some of the most interesting characters in fiction. I have heard that the quality of the stories drops off in the later books, but the first three will knock your socks off. HIGHLY and FIRMLY RECOMMENDED.


2 of 2 people found this review helpful