Treason's Harbour (Aubrey/Maturin Novels, 9) (Book 9)

by Patrick O'Brian

Paperback, 1992



Call number




W. W. Norton & Company (1992), 368 pages


All Patrick O'Brian's strengths are on parade in this novel of action and intrigue, set partly in Malta, partly in the treacherous, pirate-infested waters of the Red Sea. While Captain Aubrey worries about repairs to his ship, Stephen Maturin assumes the center stage for the dockyards and salons of Malta are alive with Napoleon's agents, and the admiralty's intelligence network is compromised. Maturin's cunning is the sole bulwark against sabotage of Aubrey's daring mission.

User reviews

LibraryThing member TadAD
I enjoyed this, but I also have to say that I’m having doubts. The pleasure of a roman fleuve is that each episode is a self-contained little yarn, while the larger life story of the characters ties the books together. O’Brian’s books followed that principle through the earlier volumes.
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However, of late, they haven’t. The subplots—Wray’s actions, Stephen and Diana’s marriage, Jack’s financial troubles—carry on from book to book, not as little background stories, but as major plot elements that do not get resolved.

I enjoyed this book, but not because it moved the story along. It wasn’t even that it was full of action, for, even by O’Brian’s slender standards, there was little in this episode. I enjoyed it simply because I love O’Brian’s language, because his dry sense of humor appeals to me greatly, and because the characters are old friends. But, I’d really rather have more.
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LibraryThing member rameau
Great return to form after the doldrums of The Ionian Mission. Two bits that I love: "the city of Valetta was as cheerful as though it were fortunate in love or as though it had suddenly heard good news." And Captain Aubrey looking through the stern-window: "This was a sight that never failed to
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move him: the noble curve of shining panes, wholly unlike any landborne window, and then the sea in some one of its infinity of aspects; and the whole in silence, entirely to himself. If he spent the rest of his life on half-pay in a debtors' prison he would still have had this, he reflected, eating the last of the Cephalonian cheese; and it was something over and above any reward he could have possibly contracted for." Quibble: I think Stephen should have figured out the double agent pretty quickly.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Another rollicking adventure of Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, with espionage at the forefront as Maturin tries to foil the efforts of French agents in Malta. More good nautical storytelling from O'Brian.
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Treason's Harbour finds the crew of the Surprise in Malta while the ship undergoes repairs. Malta is crawling with spies, keeping Stephen Maturin particularly busy with espionage and counter espionage. Orders send Captain Aubrey and his crew on missions that could be compromised by leaked
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intelligence. Will the combination of Aubrey's nautical skill and Maturin's sharp mind keep the Surprise and its men from falling into a trap?

I've wanted to try this series for a while because I've heard so many good things about it. Normally I wouldn't start in the middle of a series, but I picked this one up because I needed a book set in Malta. Enough of the series back story is included so that I didn't feel like I was missing information crucial to the plot. I thought the ending was rather abrupt, leaving some major plot threads unresolved. I liked it well enough to want to read more in the series, but I'm torn between continuing from this point in the series so I can find out what happens next or going back to the beginning of the series.
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LibraryThing member wispywillow
Love this one :D The dog in the cistern scene is classic, lol!
LibraryThing member Larou
O’Brian’s writing is often compared to Jane Austen, but I strongly suspect that this is just a widespread reflex to which pretty much anything set in the Regency period is somehow “like Jane Austen.” There is at least some justice to it in this case, in so far as the implied narrator of the
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Aubrey-Maturin novels is clearly a contemporary and shares not only the conceptions and prejudices of his characters but also their language – as manifest not just in the extensive (and to the reader often exasperating) use of nautical terms but in O’Brians’s general choice of words, the way he constructs long periods, indeed even the very rhythm of his prose is somehow evocative of the late 18th / early 19th century. However, while on one hand the narrator appears completely immersed in the period in which the novels take place, at the same time he is clearly not and writes with a distinct detachment, watching the to-and-fro on both land and sea from a distance, with wry amusement and ever-present irony.

And irony is, I think, the key word here – the author who O’Brian makes me most think of is not Jane Austen (whose irony, it seems to me, is more of the tongue-in-cheek variety and something quite different) but Thomas Mann the vast majority of whose narrators also cultivate this involved-but-not-really-commited attitude (and his protagonist often as well – as when Joseph is said to have become in all respects like an Egyptian – “but with reservations”). Thomas Mann is one of the most imitated writers of the twentieth century, but for some reason it seems to be next to impossible to imitate him successfully – while there is a plethora of excellent, even great Faulkner epigones (to name just one example), almost everyone attempting to write in the vein of Thomas Mann seems to end up second- or third-rate (if not worse), mostly due to a vapid and anaemic prose style. Now, one can call O’Brian’s writing a lot of things, but anaemic is certainly not one of them. I suspect that the reason O’Brian succeeds where so many others have failed is that he applies Thomas Mann’s distinct brand of irony not to the novel of ideas but to the historical novel, where the genre itself pretty much guarantees a certain saturation with vivid details and a certain groundedness which prevents a text from pirouetting endlessly around itself, producing nothing but narcissistic self-centeredness – another trap those who would follow in the footsteps of Thomas Mann like to fall into.

In addition the characteristic hovering of irony, the vacillating between two sides of a border without coming down on either seems an almost too perfect solution for what is maybe the central dilemma of the traditional historical novel (i.e., not postmodern and not written by William T. Vollmann) – to present a past period as it has been experienced by its contemporaries while at the same time remaining aware of the basic impossibility of that undertaking, simultaneously immersing the reader in a historical epoch and reminding him that this immersion is an illusion, mere make-believe and an approximation at best. This is a very fine line to walk, and most historical novels tend to fall off to one side or the other – which is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact the results can be quite fascinating, especially if the novel crashes on the immersion side of the divide. O’Brian, however, always remains in perfect balance, walking the tightrope in supreme confidence. In fact, he sometimes makes it look too easy – this is always a danger of irony, that it just is not very dangerous but plays things safe, that the narrator’s equanimous distance from events prevents them from touching him too deeply.

Treason’s Harbour – to say at least a sentence or two about the actual book I’m supposed to be writing about here – does not quite escape this, I think. While it speeds things up again after the non-events of The Ionian Mission, spicing things up mainly with some espionage intrigue, it certainly chuffs along pleasantly enough, and it’s of course always a delight to let oneself be carried along by the rhythm of O’Brians prose. But I felt the novel was lacking a bit in emotional involvement. So I may have liked this chapter in the Aubrey-Maturin saga just a tad less than some previous instalments, but overall I still loved and remain eager to continue.
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LibraryThing member dazzyj
By this stage in the saga, opening one of these books is like sinking gratefully into a warm bath...
LibraryThing member elenchus
In which Aubrey is back in Malta awaiting a promised command, the port teeming with French agents and rife with British corruption. Maturin plays a game of double-cross with Lesueuer (and unknowingly: with Wray), pretending to be seduced by Laura Fielding yet upholding his honour, and hers. Word
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arrives that a similar game may be played in London with Diana and Jagiello. The intrigue shifts from Malta to the Red Sea aboard Niobe, after transport on Dromedary and then a desert crossing by camel train, and dear Surprise is charged with convoy duty to Ithaca, perhaps its last mission before being sold out of the service.


Theme of cuckoldry continues, now targeting Charles Fielding given his wife's willingness to be used by French intelligence. O'Brian inserts a wry aside about a cuckold's neck, a nautical term.

Jack's chelengk, and his rescue of Ponto from a well, and subsequent raised eyebrows about town.

Stephen's diving bell, and French gold; Wray's gambling habit, and in lieu of payment: a new command for Jack? Attending to a bear, recently injured by crewmember Awkward Davis.

The memorable action aboard Surprise with French man-of-war Mars and its attendant freighters, in tight quarters, Jack's seamanship delivering a satisfactory conclusion if no prize.

O'Brian names the Captains Ball & Hamner; and glassmerchant Maimonides Moses.
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LibraryThing member mpontius
More adventures of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, this time in Malta and the Red Sea. More espionage and high-sea adventure, where Aubrey learns the HMS Surprise is to be decommissioned, and Maturin's diving bell is put to use retrieving false prize from the bottom of the sea. Five stars.
LibraryThing member Othemts
Summary/Review: The nautical adventures of Aubrey and Maturin continue. This is an average story that includes some interesting spying intrigue, Stephen Maturin in a diving bell, a mission to Egypt, and a blessedly complete absence of Diana Villiers. Other than that it's a bit bland and feels like
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it's there to connect to the next novel more than anything else.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
Another cliff hanger and this novel has a bit more tension than normal as the intelligence game heats up and the reader knows more than Stephen does. Mr. O'Brian flings his men into the Red Sea (and through a bit of desert along the way) which makes for a change of scenery.
LibraryThing member malcrf
A bit of a curate's egg in that whilst it had the excellent characterisation, the realism, the evocative prose of all Aubrey/Maturin novels not a lot happened. The overall story of Aubrey and Maturin did not progress very much. But then I would guess it was often like that.
LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
The continuing adventures of Dr.Maturin and his bff, Captain Aubrey of the Royal Navy. This is a particularly endearing look at them, because both are in fine form. Aubrey is able to showcase his incredible seamanship, strategy, and leadership, while Maturin's naturalist excusions are a humorous
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counterpoint to his intelligent manipulations. The humor of their strange shipmates and odd customs of the Navy, the obvious intimacy with Maturin's foibles, the affection shown by all of them toward each other--I really loved it.

Three things spoiled my enjoyment: Patrick Tull is generally a good narrator, but his voice for the Italian Mrs.Fielding is atrocious, so bad and artificial that it sounds like a parody. Being party to the French Intelligence officers' meetings is fun for the reader, but made me impatient when Maturin didn't figure out the various French plots. Particularly annoying was his continued trust in Ray, because there were numerous clues that Ray was involved with the French, and Maturin had absolutely no reason to trust Ray. And thirdly, the book ends right in the middle of a spy plot and right before more ship battles! I could hardly believe the book ended in such an awkward spot--at first I thought I'd downloaded it wrong!
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LibraryThing member iayork
Espionage takes center stage in ninth Aubrey-Maturin novel: I continue to marvel at how strong a series Patrick O'Brian has created with his beloved Aubrey-Maturin books. Now into their ninth novel, Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin have lost none of their appeal.

One of O'Brian's
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best decisions was to have Aubrey and Maturin play two dramatically different roles while serving together. Aubrey is a duty-driven fighting captain, good for plenty of gallantry and traditional British heroism. In certain novels, such as "Master and Commander," Aubrey gets to take the lead. Maturin, on the other hand, is a spy as well as a naturlist, humanist, and physician. O'Brian lets Maturin take the lead in other novels where dueling broadsides play less of a role. And thank goodness he did so, for after a few novels the stories of Aubrey leading ship after ship into combat would grow more than a little dull.

"Treason's Harbour" is one of the series' espionage-oriented novels. The novel opens in the titular harbour in the island of Malta. Aubrey's lucky ship "Surprise" is in for much-needed repairs, and Aubrey must confront the extortive practices of the local tradesmen in order to get his ship fixed. Maturin must confront the attempt by the French to seduce him using a charming local lady whom they have blackmailed. O'Brian masterfully injects humor into the scenario as Aubrey tries to rescue the lady's beloved (and mammoth) dog, who has fallen into a well. Despite falling in himself, Aubrey rescues the dog, who thereafter treats Aubrey with such affection that the local gossip swiftly becomes that Aubrey and the lady must be having an affair.

After this entertaining episode, it is off to the Red Sea for Aubrey and Maturin for more diplomacy. While there is plenty of time for seamanship, this mission is more in Maturin's line than Aubrey's. O'Brian treats the reader to several fun and thrilling passages, whether it is Aubrey trying to negotiate the desert on a camel, or Maturin using his new-fangled diving bell to explore the sea floor, or an unfortunate swimmer being devoured by a shark.

The pages of "Treason's Harbour" will fly by as Aubrey and Maturin move from scrape to scrape, eventually ending up in a sea battle with the French. All in all, a well-rounded entry into the Aubrey-Maturin series. I only give this one four stars to distinguish it from the best novels in the series, but this is by no means a criticism - sometimes you must discriminate between the very good and the excellent.
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LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
Treason’s Harbour, Patrick O’Brian’s ninth book in his Aubrey-Maturin series, sees picks up shortly after the events of The Ionian Mission, with Captain Jack Aubrey refitting the HMS Surprise at Malta and Dr. Stephen Maturin working to maintain his cover as an intelligence agent amid a
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shake-up in the Mediterranean command and a Malta teeming with French spies. Aubrey undertakes three missions throughout the region, each time finding his missions foiled by the French intelligence networks’ advance knowledge of his missions from Malta. Stephen, meanwhile, tests out his diving bell, based on Edmond Halley’s design, and works to surreptitiously hamper the French spy networks’ efforts without further jeopardizing himself. The Surprise, nearly a recurring character in her own right prior to this, takes on a special significance when Admiral Ives informs Aubrey that she is to return to England to be sold out of the service, leading Aubrey to carefully contemplate the ship and her crew on their various missions. In a series of flashbacks, O’Brian explores Captain Aubrey’s examination to become a lieutenant.

Like his previous novels, O’Brian perfectly recreates the world of the Napoleonic War in 1812, using Aubrey’s nostalgia at the coming retirement of the Surprise to view the life aboard ship, particularly aboard this idealized ship, through rose-colored glasses and with a sentimentality that will delight his readers. This Folio Society edition reprints the original text with insets containing historical portraits and sketches to illustrate some of the scenes. A great contribution to the Aubrey-Maturin series and the third of twelve to focus on what O’Brian described as an extended 1812, with these dozen books taking place between the beginning of June 1813 and November 1813.
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LibraryThing member bragan
Book 9 in Patrick O'Brian's series of sea stories featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and ship's doctor and part-time spy Stephen Maturin. In this one, they go after a potentially incredibly valuable prize and deal with some issues of compromised intelligence.

You know, it sometimes occurs to me to think
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that either O'Brian knows nothing about pacing or just does not care, and this volume is very much a case in point. Rambling conversations about nothing relevant go on for pages while dramatic moments where plot-critical things are happening are sometimes passed over very quickly. And yet somehow, at his best, he makes that work for him. And as far as I'm concerned, it definitely worked for him here. This was kind of slow, and not all that exciting, but doggone it, I found it just terribly pleasant, somehow, as I sat there reading it in my living room on a series of lovely spring days, imagining the desert breeze wafting in through my windows might at any moment start bringing me the scent of the ocean and feeling content with my life of not being shot at by the French.
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LibraryThing member charlie68
Emily Dickinson said there is no frigate like a book. In the Aubrey-Maturin series this is especially true. O'Brian's stories of these two characters give the reader a trip through the era of sailing warships during the conflict with Napoleonic France. This story takes place in Malta and the
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eastern Mediterranean and also in the sweltering Red Sea, all vividly told.
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LibraryThing member kslade
Another great book in this series. Very addictive. I like the friendship between Jack and the doctor and the spy activities, etc.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

368 p.; 8.3 inches


0393308634 / 9780393308631
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