Horatio Hornblower

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
Lieutenant Hornblower
Hornblower and the Hotspur
Hornblower and the Atropos
The Happy Return
A Ship of the Line
Flying Colours
The Commodore
Lord Hornblower
Hornblower in the West Indies

C.S. Forester

A book review by Danny Yee © 2001 http://dannyreviews.com/
Other "age of sail" naval heroes have come to rival him — Alexander Kent's Richard Bolitho, Richard Woodman's Nathaniel Drinkwater, Dudley Pope's Ramage, and Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey, to list just a few — but Horatio Hornblower remains for many of us the best known and most loved. In ten books Forester recounts Hornblower's rise from midshipman to admiral, during the British navy's confrontation with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. They are above all "rattling good yarns", with fast-moving plots, stirring battle scenes, lively dialogue, and vivid characters, but they also offer a picture of the British navy during the period; and Hornblower himself is an original and memorable creation.

I recommend reading the books in the order they were written rather than chronologically. In the first written, The Happy Return (also published as Beat to Quarters), we find Hornblower in command of a frigate in lonely Pacific waters off Spanish Central America. He has to deal with a mad revolutionary, fight single-ship duels with a larger vessel, and cope with Lady Barbara Wellesley (who provides a romantic interest to the series). In A Ship of the Line Hornblower is sent into the Mediterranean, where he wreaks havoc on French coastal communications before plunging into a battle against the odds. Flying Colours is mostly set in France: in it Hornblower escapes captivity and returns to England a hero. In The Commodore he is sent with a squadron into the Baltic, where he has to cope with the complex politics of the region as well as helping with the siege of Riga. And in Lord Hornblower a mutiny leads to involvement with the fall of Napoleon — and brings him to prison and a death sentence during the Hundred Days.

Forester then went back and described Hornblower's earlier career. Lieutenant Hornblower is perhaps my favourite of the books. The only novel narrated from a perspective other than our hero's — that of his faithful friend Bush — it takes Hornblower to the West Indies, where a mad captain and the fall of Santo Domingo test his ability and his resolution, and where he earns the most critical promotion of his career. It also has some vivid scenes with Hornblower on half-pay in London during the Peace of Amiens, playing whist for a living. In Hornblower and the Hotspur he is part of the blockade of Brest, and in Hornblower and the Atropos he is sent on a perilous mission into the Eastern Mediterranean. Mr Midshipman Hornblower and Hornblower in the West Indies are collections of short stories rather than novels, the latter with Hornblower an admiral near the end of his career.

Serious Hornblower fans should also check out C. Northcote Parkinson's "biography" of Hornblower.

November 2001

External links:
- buy the Hornblower novels from Amazon.com
Related reviews:
- Henry Baynham - From the Lower Deck: The Old Navy 1780-1840
- more naval history + fiction
- more war fiction