From the back cover:
April 1803. The Peace of Amiens is breaking down. Napoleon is building ships and amassing an army just across the Channel. Horatio Hornblower—who, at age twenty-seven, has already distinguished himself as one of the most daring and resourceful officers in the Royal Navy—commands the three-masted Hotspur on a dangerous reconnaissance mission that evolves, as war breaks out, into a series of spectacular confrontations. All the while, the introspective young commander struggles to understand his new bride and mother-in-law, his officers and crew, and his own “accursed unhappy temperament”—matters that trouble him more, perhaps, than any of Bonaparte’s cannonballs.
It took me over a month to finish this, and I’m not sure why since I really did like it a lot. It might’ve been because the problems faced by Hornblower and crew were often exhausting. Like the weeks of raging storms they endured as their supply of drinking water dwindled away, culminating in a mad dash to port in unfavorable winds, necessitating all sorts of changes in navigation and sails. When they were finally free to collapse into heaps, I too went ‘phew’ and wanted to have a bit of a rest.
The characteristics that have made the other Hornblower books so enjoyable were present here as well: interesting and endearing characters, daring exploits coupled with “inexhaustible ingenuity,” and access to the title character’s fascinating thought processes. There were a couple of things that bugged me, but they weren’t major. One was the lack of a map, since the details of a certain bit of French coastline were of particular importance, and the other was the treatment of Hornblower’s seasickness. I’m not sure about this, but I believe that in the other books I’ve read (written earlier, occurring chronologically later) he’d suffer for the first few days at sea and then be fine afterwards. Here, it was a recurring problem.
I learned some new words from this book, but none were as potentially amusing as “ullage,” which means “the amount that a container lacks of being full.” So, next time you open a bag of potato chips to find its contents woefully scant, astound your friends by proclaiming, “What an abhorrent surfeit of ullage!”