THE UNKNOWN SHORE by Patrick O'Brian


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Mining the same material that he used for his first sea-tale (The Golden Ocean, 1956), O'Brian returned three years later to Commodore Anson's 1740 globe-circling voyage in The Unknown Shore, originally published in Britain in 1959. The book follows the adventures of another pair of friends, clearly the models for the Aubrey/Maturin 17volume series that was to begin, in 1970, with Master and Commander. In this precursor, midshipman Jack Byron and his lifelong friend, Tobias Barrow, join the Wager, a converted Indiaman merchant vessel, the fourth and least of Commodore Anson's squadron whose mission is to cross the Atlantic, sail down the coast of Brazil, round the Horn, and harass the Spanish treasure ships along the coast of Chile--this at a time when the Spanish had the Pacific practically to themselves. Jack is large, hearty, and physical--very much what Jack Aubrey might have been like in his youth. Toby, who ships as surgeon's mate, comes out of London's slums--a foundling who'd been apprenticed by a physician who, on a bet, said he believed anyone could be taught if caught early enough and kept at it long enough. Now, Toby, a true innocent, is overeducated and undersocialized, an enormously engaging Stephen Maturin-to-be; he's fluent in Latin and Greek, and natural science is his passion, but naval priorities, alas, remain a mystery to him. Wager, meanwhile, is manned by the dregs of Anson's squadron and captained by an inexperienced and brutal officer. Barely making it around Cape Horn, the ship is wrecked on an inhospitable coast, where the crew's natural proclivities lead to mutiny, desertion, drunkenness, and murder. Making their painful way north to the Chilean seaport of Valparaiso, only 5 of the original 220 will get back to civilization. O'Brian, with obvious affection for his characters and their time, hits his storytelling stride here. Nobody does the 18th-century British Navy any better.
Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-393-03859-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1995


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