Sailing Off to the Past

With his 16th novel about two heroes of the Napoleonic Wars, Patrick O'Brian is seeing his ship come in at last

Some readers have zero tolerance for the genre of seagoing adventures. To such landlubbers, nautical language all sounds distressingly like shiver-me- mizzenmast or belay-the-taffrail or somesuch, and they quickly jump ship in search of books written in more accessible prose. Too bad for them, because they have therefore missed the high-sailing novels of Patrick O'Brian.

And there are plenty of them to be missed. The Wine-Dark Sea (Norton; 261 pages; $22) is the 16th installment of what devotees call the Aubrey/Maturin novels. All are set in the early 19th century, during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, and all feature the...

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