I picked up Master and commander because of a growing interest in the Napoleonic era, and naval history in general (largely spurred by my job at the time). The fact that my spouse is an avid Jane Austen fan helped as well. Master and commander is the first book in the lengthy Aubrey-Maturin series, a roman-fleuve* following the adventures of two friends during the early Napoleonic era. The series is noteworthy for blending aspects of the classic naval adventure and the regency romance novels of manners. O’Brian’s insistance on pinpoint period accuracy, down to the very 19th century writing style, makes the series somewhat tricky to recommend, but do to the satirical tone, it manages to avoid the rampant racism and sexism found in many novels set in the same period (C.S. Forester’s novels are some of the most egregious offenders here).
Brief plot description
Jack Aubrey, officer in the British Royal Navy, encounters naturalist/doctor Stephen Maturin when the former’s enthusiastic response to a musical performance discommodes the latter. The two end up becoming fast friends, and when Aubrey is offered a captaincy, he invites the impoverished Maturin to come along as ship’s surgeon.