The brilliance of the writing has not diminished in that time. From the moment I sat down with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in the music room in the Governor's House at Port Mahon, Minorca until the moment we got up from the court martial table on board HMS Pompee in Gibraltar I was as enthralled as I ever was despite this being at least the seventh time I had read it. The blurb at the top of the book cover shown here is a quote from The Times calling O'Brian "the greatest historical novelist of all time". Ignore for the moment the fact that the source of this quote is a bit ambiguous (try googling it and see if you can get back to the original review), the sentiment is spot on.
It should be obvious, although I haven't mentioned it yet, but this is Nautical Fiction. Nautical Histroical Fiction set in the Napoleonic Wars. The plot in Master and Commander is taken, to various degrees, from the real life exploits of Lord Cochrane at the same time (1800ish). The main characters Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are introduced and their personalities start to develop. Although they will both change somewhat over the next 20 books, the elements of Jack and Stephen are fully developed. If you are looking for somewhere to start reading in this genre, look no further. There may be books later in the series with a better plot - there are assuredly some with much worse, or even no plot at all - there may be some where characterisation is more developed - I'm thinking of the first few chapters of The Commodore in particular - but this is where it all began and this is where your reading pleasure should start. If you haven't read it yet, stop what you are doing, get a copy and start now.