I highly recommend O'Brian, although the subject matter may not necessarily be of that great an interest to you. But even from the very beginning, from Master and Commander
, his works were never just sea stories. The character Stephen Maturin is an Irish Catholic who was raised and educated (as so many were in the 17th and 18th centuries) in Spain, in his particular case, in Catalonia. When Jack Aubrey brings him aboard his first command, Sophie
, Maturin is disconcerted to find that an old companion from the United Irish, now a potential enemy (either could betray the other) is appointed first Lieutenant of Sophie
. The military adventures of Aubrey in Sophie
are based almost verbatim on the incredible adventures of Thomas Cochrane in HMS Speedy
. O'Brian has included the very subtle interplay between Dr. Maturin and James Dillon, the first Lieutenant, and between Aubrey and Dillon. Dillon becomes convinced that Aubrey is only interested in profit (taking prizes) and that he may in fact by shy--or, as we would say, a coward. Jack Aubrey is the bluff, "Roast Beef of Old England" type of sailor, who is not very quick, but who can, in the old expression, see through a brick wall if given enough time. He eventually comes to realize that Dillon thinks he might be shy.
In all of O'Brian's novels, there is an historical basis, into which he inserts Aubrey and Maturin. Returning from a disastrous cruise to the Southern Ocean, Botany Bay and the east Indies, Aubrey and Maturin are passengers aboard HMS Java
when she is taken by USS Constitution
. The novel has them acting rather improbably in Boston as prisoners of war, and they then escape to join Captain Broke in HMS Shannon
. Broke was about the only Royal Navy officer to do credit to his service in what the English call the American War, and Broke's defeat of USS Chesapeake
was the first bright spot in the long gloom of 1812 and 1813, when the Royal Navy lost one frigate or sloop of war after another to American ships of the same rating, but which show better seamanship, better gunnery, and willing crews--willing crews were not a feature of the Royal Navy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Far Side of the World
is loosely based on the hunt of USS Essex
by HMS Phoebe
in 1813 (very loosely), with Aubrey's favorite frigate, HMS Surprise
pursuing USS Norfolk
. O'Brian does some violence to history for sake of his characters, but the cruises and battles at sea are lifted almost wholesale from existing logs books and reports. He seemed to know that you really can't improve upon the records of the Royal Navy and the United States Navy in the early 19th century.
The Unknown Shore
and The Golden Ocean
are two novels he wrote in the 1950s, which precede the Aubrey/Maturin series, but somewhat prefigure them. Both are based on the circumnavigation of Admiral Anson during the War of Jenkin's Ear/War of the Austrian Succession, when Anson took the Spanish treasure ship from Manila. I highly recommend both of those novels, as well.