Mini Reviews: Master and Commander and The Gunslinger

Friday, April 17, 2015


Today's reviews are both the first books in a long series. Neither hit the mark for me and I'm trying to decide if they're worth continuing. 

Master and Commander
by Patrick O'Brian
★★★

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, a navy man Jack Aubrey and a surgeon, Stephen Maturin, form a friendship based on their shared love of music. As so many others have noted, the greatest things about this book (and from what I’ve heard, the whole series), is their friendship. While I did love that aspect of the novel, I struggled with the technical side of the rest of it. No one can say O’Brian didn’t pay attention to the details of the British navy in the 1800s. I love that Jack is a bit of a hot head, while Stephen is cautious and patient. They balance each other out. Stephen is new to the naval side of things, but is motivated to become the ship’s doctor when he realizes the new species he will be able to see on his travels.

The series has become a classic for good reason. O’Brian spares no detail in describing ship life during that time. The politics of each promotion or judicial case are like walking a tight rope. For me, I felt buried in the details at times.

BOTTOM LINE: Honestly, I really wanted to love this one more than I did. I struggled to stay interested in it and felt a bit relieved when I finished it. I think I’ll wait a decade or so and then maybe give it a try again.

The Gunslinger
(The Dark Tower #1)
by Stephen King
★★☆

Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower saga begins here, with Roland, a gunslinger in a futuristic wild west. Through flashbacks we learn about his childhood and upbringing. In the present day scenes we travel through dusty towns and desert lands in pursuit of the “man in black”.

The book just felt so stilted to me. At no point did I feel really connected to Roland or invested in his journey. It felt more like a string of short stories to me. They all lead to the same place, but not in a way that made me want to go along on his journey. I felt more like Stephen King had been challenged to write a western and this was the result.

I've heard and read quite a few reviews that say the first book is not a great representation of the series as a whole. I'd love to hear from others who have read the whole series. Is it worth continuing because it gets better or should I give it up if the first one didn't click for me?

BOTTOM LINE: I didn’t love it and I’m not sure if I should give the next book a chance.

11 comments:

Heather said...

The Dark Tower series is my all-time favorite series so, um, YES, you should definitely keep reading.

Now, I didn't want to read beyond The Gunslinger, either, but not because I didn't like it. I liked it very much...until _______ died. I was SO MAD. I was sobbing and damning Stephen King for killing _______ off so soon. I called my mom, while I was crying, and told her I wasn't reading ANY MORE of that "stupid series." She convinced me to keep going, and I'm so glad she did. Heh.

Lisa said...

From what I've heard, a lot of people struggle with the first Patrick O'Brian book. The second takes place more on shore, and it has definite Jane Austen overtones. I loved the first book myself, but I admit I skipped a lot of the technical stuff about sailing.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Heather - See, this is why I need you people. Ok, I will absolutely have to try the next book.

Lisa - Jane Austen overtones, I'm sold! I kept thinking about Persuasion while I was reading M&C, but it was just so technical!

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

Please try the next one in the series before you give us. Post Captain is an homage to Jane Austen and one of the best of the series (that I've read so far).

Trish said...

I started listening to Gunslinger as well--on a roadtrip--and I fell asleep. It didnt' really grab my attention and I had many of the same thoughts you had. Glad to see Heather's comments above. I've been debating whether I should re-listen to it (it's only 7 hours) or just skip the series completely. So many people love it, though!

Brona Joy said...

I love and adore both series and have read all the books in both (in fact my old book club helped me celebrate finishing the 20 O'Brian books with a nautical themed party!)

But they are not for everyone. The gunslinger series references a lot of King's older books, so part of the appeal is the sense of continuation & connection.

I found some of the sailing terminology tedious in in M&C but by the end I knew my jib from my mainsail! Some of the books were better than others too. I preferred the ones that focused on the friendships & their on land relationships.

Hope this helps :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Alex - I'm so glad I asked and didn't just give up on the series!

Trish - That's how I felt. I listened to it too, but I never felt invested in it.

Brona - Oh my gosh! That's incredible! Ok, well if they are worth that much time, I definitely need to at least read the second book of each to give them another shot. I'm sold.

Amy said...

I liked Master and Commander, but I, too, skipped some of the nautical detail.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Amy - Reading an audio version was hard because I couldn't skip or skim anything. Maybe I'll try a hard copy of the next one.

Alisa Wilhelm said...

I've only read one King book - The Shining - and I felt it was similar to what you didn't like about The Gunslinger. Maybe he's just not a writer for me.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Alisa - I felt that way for a long time, but I really love some of his work. The Green Mike was so good!