Commodore Hornblower by C. S. Forester: A-

From the back cover:
The incomparable Horatio Hornblower has been designated commodore of his own squadron of ships, led by the two-decker Nonsuch and bound for the Baltic. It is 1812, and Hornblower has been ordered to do anything and everything possible, diplomatically and militarily, to protect the Baltic trade and to stop the spread of Napoleon’s empire into Sweden and Russia. Though he has set sail a hero, one misstep may ruin his chances of ever becoming an admiral. Hostile armies, seductive Russian royalty, nautical perils such as ice-bound bays, assassins in the imperial palace—Hornblower must conquer all before he can return home, as his instructions are to sacrifice every man and ship under his command rather than surrender ground to Napoleon.

Many things about this book were great. Hornblower’s personality has undergone some gradual changes since we last saw him, and the differences are handled with skill. One doesn’t feel that one’s being hit over the head with it, and he certainly continues to be as self-conscious and internally conflicted as ever. I also really liked the Baltic setting, the multitude of clever ideas Hornblower comes up with and executes, and many of the supporting characters introduced, particularly Lieutenant Mound, who takes up emulating Hornblower’s mannerisms and is at once competent and endearing.

However, I have to take issue with a few things. Firstly, there are two instances where Hornblower suffers a prolonged bout of stupidity, first where he can’t identify a sound and later when he fails to realize another man’s intentions, which just came across as really out of character. Secondly, it is strongly implied that Hornblower did something for which he, judging from behavior in the past, should have had raging guilt and regret but apparently does not.

While these flaws were certainly annoying, the story was strong enough to overcome them, and I ultimately enjoyed it very much.

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