From the back cover:
In the wake of a humbling incident abord a canal boat in the Cotswolds, young Captain Horatio Hornblower arrives in London to take command of the Atropos, a 22-gun sloop barely large enough to require a captain. Her first assignment under Hornblower’s command is as flagship for the funeral procession of Lord Nelson.
Soon Atropos is part of the Mediterranean Fleet’s harassment of Napoleon, recovering treasure that lies deep in Turkish waters and boldly challenging a Spanish frigate several times her size. At the center of each adventure is Hornblower, Forester’s most inspired creation, whose blend of cautious preparation and spirited execution dazzles friend and foe alike.
I am such a fan of Forester’s writing style. The Hornblower novels always have their fair share of adventure, of course, but less grandiose moments are equally riveting. This book opens with Hornblower and his wife taking a journey by canal. Through Hornblower’s fascination with the process and exhilaration at filling in for a wounded crewman, the reader is instantly drawn into the story. Later there are naval skirmishes and negotiations with nations of dubious neutrality, but it’s the efforts of Hornblower and crew to recover British funds from a sunken vessel that I personally find most interesting.
Forester is also deft at efficient characterization. Here’s an example: Hornblower has just taken command of his new ship and in the company of Mr. Jones, his new First Lieutenant, reads his orders. They contain the surprising directions to plan Lord Nelson’s funeral. Hornblower can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it. The next line reads: “Mr. Jones decided that he should laugh, too, and did so, obsequiously.” I really like how that kind of sums up Jones’ entire personality.
Speaking of supporting characters, some are almost unbearably annoying. Hornblower’s wife seems to be more shrewish than ever before, and seriously needs a hobby aside from her husband. There’s a “ridiculous doctor,” which compels to me to wonder how often that character type may be found amongst military crews in various media. Certainly Gaius Baltar is ridiculous. Bashir was a trifle ridiculous at times. Are there more I’m forgetting?
I always like Forester’s endings, too. This one is no exception, culminating in an important event in Hornblower’s personal life and kind of bringing the series full circle for me. The first Hornblower novel to be written, Beat to Quarters, also the first I read, is the next after this one chronologically. After going back in time to when he was a Midshipman and Lieutenant, now he’s finally become the man he was when I first encountered him. It’s an interesting effect, though I still intend to follow internal chronology for any rereads of the series.
In conclusion, I continue to adore the Hornblower saga and recommend it unreservedly.