The Thirteen-Gun Salute: Aubrey/Maturin (Book 13)

by Patrick O'Brian

Paperback, 1992



Call number




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


Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML: Captain Jack Aubrey sets sail for the South China Sea with a new lease on life. Following his dismissal from the Royal Navy on a false accusation, he has earned reinstatement through his daring exploits as a privateer. Now he is to shepherd Stephen Maturin??his friend, ship's surgeon, and sometimes intelligence agent??on a diplomatic mission to prevent links between Bonaparte and the Malay princes that would put English merchant shipping at risk. The journey of the Diane encompasses a satisfying diversity of adventures. Maturin climbs the Thousand Steps of the sacred crater of the orangutans; a killer typhoon catches Aubrey and his crew trying to work the Diane off a reef; and in the barbaric court of Pulo Prabang, a classic duel of intelligence agents unfolds: the French envoys, well entrenched in the sultan's good graces, against the savage cunning of Stephen Maturin. This eighteenth volume in Patrick O'Brian's highly acclaimed Aubrey-Maturin series is the perfect blend of action, espionage, and adventure on the high seas… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member psiloiordinary
Jack is back in the Navy, all is well with the world. Meanwhile Maturin shows self awareness and self control we should all envy, and of course everything is in tatters by the end of the book apart from the strength of character of our two heroes.

Such knowledge of human weaknesses and personalities
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is rare. An ability to describe them so naturally and yet to incorporate them into a plot line which carries you ever onwards is rarer still.

If you haven't tried this series of books, do so. If you don't like war novels, do so anyway. If historical fiction just isn't your thing, do so anyway. If the sea never appealed, do so anyway.

If you are curious about the human condition, do so.
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LibraryThing member iayork
Jack and Stephen enjoy another remarkable adventure: I absolutely adore this series, but in some dissent from my fellow Aubrey-Maturin fans I find this to be one of the least interesting books in the series, though it has one of the most compelling endings in that leaves the crew of the Diane
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stranded on a deserted island in the South Pacific. Until that shocking and unresolved event, I found that the novel had less of interest than nearly any other in the series. Though the visit to Pulo Prabang was interesting, it contained (except for the visit to the ruins of a Hindu Temple) less of the compelling historical detail that characterized the other books. In previous volumes, the places that Jack and Stephen visit come alive in an almost tangible manner. Here one gets little sense of what Pulo Prabang (apart from the temple) looked or felt like. The other thing that makes his books so marvelous are the magnificent character studies. This one eventually makes good on this feature of the series, but only towards the very end, as the weirdness of Fox's personality comes out. But there is far less of the complex interpersonal interplay that enlivens the other books. Finally, until the shipwreck at the end, there is simply very little excitement in this one. Compared to the previous books, I find that this one simply does not stand out.

Not that it is not still an utter delight and completely satisfying for fans of the series. The aforementioned visit by Stephen to the ruins of a Hindu temple, in the company of an orangutan, is one of the most remarkable moments in the entire series. The shipwreck at the end is as marvelously told as it is shocking to read (one simply cannot credit that the Diane enjoyed such a short lifespan). Also, there is a deep sense of satisfaction when Ledward and Wray, the villains through most of the sequence, finally get theirs, and the manner in which their bodies are disposed is quite shocking. Nonetheless, these were for me moments that reminded me of how consistently I found most of the previous books, instead of how intermittently interesting I found this one.

Interestingly, this is one of the few novels in the series in which the title of the subsequent novels is mentioned. I remember when I first read these books and how little sense I could make of the titles. In many of them the phrase that provides the title can occur well towards the end, such as THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL. But here in THE THIRTEEN-GUN SALUTE (which itself is one of the more ironical in the series, referring to Fox's rather pathetic sense of self importance) the phrase "the nutmeg of consolation" appears, which provides the title for the next novel.

One virtue O'Brian possesses as a writer (among many virtues) is that of understatement. In a genre in which the tendency is to lay things on a bit thick, O'Brian if any thing leaves things deliciously thin. There is no better instance of this than in the fate of Ledward and Wray. Nowhere does O'Brian explicitly explain what happened to them, but instead leaves us to surmise that they were shot by Fox. It is an easy conclusion to make, given Fox's constant target practice in the novel and the statement by Maturin that they were killed by rifle shot (Stephen prefers the pistol). This restraint is one of the things that make his writing so immensely satisfying.
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LibraryThing member wispywillow
I love the entire series, but this book is one of my favorites. I can't really put my finger on why... though the scene with Maturin and the orangutan was fabulous :D

I wish they'd make more of these books into movies. Russell Crowe was fabulous as Capt. Aubrey, and Paul Bettany was the perfect Dr.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
What is amazing to me is how Stephen can be so detached from his passions and feelings of revenge! There is a great scene in this book that is quite macabre but is written in such a detached way that a less careful reader might miss it entirely. Once again Jack earns his "lucky" moniker and the
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study of men and characters continues to interest.
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LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
Now that Aubrey is restored to the King's Navy once more, he's off on another mission, this time to Malaysia. His particular friend, Dr.Stephen Maturin, is along to spy on the French's forces in Malaysia. The diplomatic mission goes well, not least because Maturin disgraces and then kills the
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leading French diplomats. (This plot line is one of those masterful strokes that O'Brian is so excellent at. For the first half of the book, Maturin and Fox often practice their long distance shooting as part of a friendly competition. Later, Maturin befriends an anatomist and has amusingly detached conversations with him. Maturin stays in a brothel and watches the French. All of these minor little background moments come together in one stunning scene, when Maturin turns up on the anatomist's doorstop with an unnamed body with a precise bullet hole, and they dispassionately dissect it. It's stunning and cold.) On the way home, the ship is wrecked on uncharted reefs, and the crew is stranded on a small island.

O'Brian has a talent for the long game, giving little clues and hints that slowly build to a crescendo. He's unafraid of making his characters unlikable, or absurd, which in turn makes them actually far more interesting.
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LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
The Thirteen Gun Salute, Patrick O’Brian’s thirteenth book in his Aubrey-Maturin series, picks up shortly after the events of The Letter of Marque, with Captain Jack Aubrey taking the private ship Surprise on a mission to South America in order to foil French interests in the Spanish colonies.
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Due to the routing of their intelligence service, however, the admiralty must find a way to make the mission more innocuous by sending Jack on a diplomatic mission to to the Indies prior to a roundabout trip back to England by way of South America. As part of this, following Jack’s success in the prior two books, the admiralty restores him to the naval lists and puts him in command of the Diane, which he captured during the events of The Letter of Marque. Stephen accompanies him and they plan to rendezvous with Surprise in the South China Sea once their diplomatic mission is complete.

The novel’s title comes from the practice of saluting envoys with thirteen guns (pg. 93) and the particular envoy in question, Edward Fox, works to persuade the Sultan of Pulo Prabang to become an English ally in order to secure the trade of the East Indies Company. Much of the story focuses on Fox’s self-importance, which slowly grows into insufferableness over the course of the story and upsets naval decorum. Upon reaching their destination, O’Brian demonstrates how distance delays bad news, with characters hearing rumors about a run on the market back home (pg. 155). Meanwhile, Dr. Steven Maturin spends his time with naturalist Cornelius van Buren, who offers intelligence to benefit the English efforts. Through Steven, O’Brian explores more of the culture of the island, its politics and entertainment, as well as a remote Buddhist temple where Steven has the joy to see many rare animals in their natural habitat.

In a fun example of misremembered history that lends further verisimilitude to his characters, O’Brian portrays Jack attempting to teach the midshipmen history, specifically about the American Revolution. Jack asks, “Do you know how it began,” leading to the following exchange:
“‘Yes, sir. It was about tea, which they did not choose to pay duty on. They called out No reproduction without copulation and tossed it into Boston harbour.’
“Jack frowned, considered, and said, ‘Well, in any event they accomplished little or nothing at sea, that bout’” (pg. 147).
Recalling events from Master and Commander, Jack runs into the nephew of the French officer that captured the crew of the Sophie in that first novel. As neither are in a position to fight the other, they exchange pleasantries and, learning of the French hardship and inability to purchase stores or make speedy repairs, Jack repays the kindness he received while a prisoner of war by easing the Frenchman’s want for food, thus demonstrating the gentlemanly nature of war in this time (pgs. 228-229). In what may be an act of foreshadowing, the Sultan of Pulo Prabang counts among his titles “the Nutmeg of Consolation” (pg. 182), which is the title of the following book. Like a few others in the series, this story ends on something of a cliffhanger, though readers will enjoy the characters despite the lack of battles in this particular novel.

Like the previous six novels, The Thirteen Gun Salute exists outside the normal flow of time – this novel being the seventh of twelve to exist in what O’Brian described as an extended 1812, with these dozen books taking place between the beginning of June 1813 and November 1813. The specific reference to Jack taking command of Diane on the “fifteenth day of May in the fifty-third year of His Majesty’s reign” (pg. 107) may, perhaps, situate this book in 1814. Those looking for a perfect chronology are advised to simply enjoy the story and the way in which O’Brian perfectly recreates the world of the Napoleonic Wars, using Aubrey and Stephen’s activities to comment on the rapid changes occurring in this era and the passage of time in the series’ internal chronology. This Folio Society edition reprints the original text with insets containing historical portraits and sketches to illustrate some of the scenes.
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LibraryThing member gbsallery
If you meet someone who knows only the Malay for antimony, it is a fair bet that they learned that little from the Thirteen Gun Salute. You should congratulate them on their taste, and attempt not to involve them in discussions of the politics of south-east Asia in the middle of the 17th century.
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Having ploughed through the whole Aubrey-Maturin series, in sequence, I was beginning to anticipate the development of this instalment. However, this was very unwise: O'Brian once more broadens and enriches his canvas by introducing the character of Edward Fox; the way he stands in relation to the established characters of the series is immensely illuminating, enormouns fun, and deeply enriching. Recommended, as afficionados will well know by now.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
After a while it gets hard to gauge these books, but this seems like one of the better of the bunch, with a little bit of everything that's great about O'Brian's series: political intrigue, Maturin's scientific investigations, a bit of cover intelligence work, and of course some drama on the high
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LibraryThing member elenchus
In which the planned mission of privateer Surprise in support of an independent South America is exposed to the Spanish, forcing a new mission aboard HMS Diane to the East Indies. Aubrey & Maturin escort Edward Fox, as British envoy a personage who merits a thirteen-gun salute. Their joint
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objective: secure a pact with Sultan of Pulo Prabang, before same can be reached by the French (efforts led by Ledward & Wray).


In narrative asides and Stephen's own musings, we learn of his revolutionary past for Irish independence, and 2 new names surface: Mona, an "old sweetheart" and Robert Gough a fellow radical for independence but one espousing alliance with France (United Irishmen), which Stephen rejects.

Observing penguins and a whale swimming as though in an aquarium tank, due to heavy swell and unusually clear waters near Inaccessible Island. A memorable hike to the Kumai Temple within an elevated crater on Borneo. Unorthodox autopsies with Van Buren, thereby and not incidentally disposing of cadavers.

"Lucky" Jack finally is reinstated to the Naval List in this, the thirteenth installment: is this number O'Brian's inspiration for the idea of an envoy? Aboard Diane, Jack takes measurements for Humboldt on salinity & sea temperatures.

The Diane avoids breaching against Inaccessible Island, only to run aground an uncharted reef in the East Indies (on which Welby's marines show their mettle in the face of a typhoon).

Events proceed from May "in the 53rd year of His Majesty's reign", and close unspecified months later.

Indebted to Schuyler's "Butcher's Bill" for chronology and names, and multiple cross-references.
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LibraryThing member malcrf
Typical O'Brian. typical Aubrey/Maturin. Rich characterisation, evocative prose, fascinating plot.
LibraryThing member kslade
Another good one in the series.


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Physical description

368 p.; 8.3 inches


039330907X / 9780393309072
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