Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies by C. S. Forester: A-

From the back cover:
In the chaotic aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, the legendary Rear Admiral Lord Hornblower struggles to impose order. Serving as commander-in-chief of His Majesty’s ships and vessels in the West Indies, Hornblower confronts a formidable array of hostile forces, among them pirates, revolutionaries, and a blistering hurricane. The war is over, but peaceful it is not.

This was an enjoyable conclusion to the Hornblower saga—far better than the incomplete Hornblower During the Crisis would’ve been had I remained on publication order ’til the end.

Rather than one continuous narrative, the story was broken down into five self-contained novellas. My favorite was probably “St. Elizabeth of Hungary,” in which Hornblower thwarted an attempt to free Napoleon from St. Helena, though the rest all had their moments. Other challenges involved capturing a speedy ship trafficking in slaves, escaping from a band of desperate pirates, maintaining England’s neutrality in a Venezuelan conflict, and surviving a hurricane.

It wasn’t as dark as previous entries in the series, which makes sense given that it’s peacetime and all, but Hornblower was still personally as conflicted and brilliant as ever. Although I generally would prefer a novel over a series of novellas, these stories were so charming it’s hard to imagine this final outing as anything else; this approach was a nice way to craft a happy ending without diverging into sentimentality.

I never suspected that I would love the Hornblower novels as much as I did. It would make me happy if even one person decided to read them based on my endorsement.

Hornblower and the Atropos by C. S. Forester: A

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.

Hornblower During the Crisis by C. S. Forester: B

From the back cover:
Although unfinished at the time of C. S. Forester’s death, Hornblower During the Crisis delivers a full measure of action at sea—the hallmark of this incomparably exciting series of historical adventures.

On the threshold of securing his first post as captain, Hornblower finds himself forced by the exigencies of war to fight alongside a man whom he has unintentionally helped to court-martial. And for the first time, Hornblower assents to engaging in espionage in his efforts to bring victory and glory to England in the Napoleonic Wars.

This extant fragment of Forester’s final Hornblower novel is followed by the author’s notes regarding the novel’s conclusion. Also included in this volume are two stories—”Hornblower’s Temptation” and “The Last Encounter”—that depict the great sea dog Hornblower in his youth and old age, respectively.

I liked what there was of Hornblower During the Crisis, but the best was probably yet to come. Hornblower had the opportunity for one daring exploit and to hatch one clever plan, but that was about it.

The short stories weren’t too exciting, either. The first, here called “Hornblower’s Temptation” but also known as “Hornblower and the Widow McCool,” initially reminded me a little of The Crying Game. Hornblower was appointed to oversee a captured deserter and, in his role as reluctant executioner, made a deal with the prisoner to convey a message to his widow. Things unfolded quite differently than expected, but since it all played out kind of like a Nancy Drew adventure game, the effect was less than amazing.

In “The Last Encounter,” Hornblower was 72 and was enjoying a post-prandial glass of port when a fellow turned up at his house claiming to be Napoleon Bonaparte. This story was short and kind of pointless, though it did have a couple of cute moments between Hornblower and his wife, Barbara.

If I’d been a Forester fan as he was writing, I surely would’ve been disappointed with this final collection of his Hornblower works. Happily, though, since I’ve switched to reading by internal chronology, I’ve got two further books to go that hopefully will be better than this.

Hornblower and the Hotspur by C. S. Forester: A

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!”

Lieutenant Hornblower by C. S. Forester: A

From the back cover:
In this gripping tail of turmoil and triumph on the high seas, Horatio Hornblower emerges from his apprenticeship as midshipman to face new responsibilities thrust upon him by the fortunes of war between Napoleon and Spain. Enduring near-mutiny, bloody hand-to-hand combat with Spanish seamen, deck-splintering sea battles, and the violence and horror of life on the fighting ships of the Napoleonic Wars, the young lieutenant distinguishes himself in his first independent command. He also faces an adventure unique in his experience: Maria.

Lieutenant Hornblower is unique in that the tale is told from Bush’s perspective. I missed Hornblower’s brooding, insecure point of view, but it was interesting to see things from the stolid and loyal Bush’s perspective. I already had a healthy appreciation of Bush, but I sympathize with him more than ever after this volume.

The captain of the ship on which both men are serving is nutters, and eventually ends up being confined to quarters by his Lieutenants. To balance out this action in any subsequent inquiries, the men endeavour to distinguish themselves by going ahead with the mission. In this aim they storm and capture a Spanish fort, roust out some privateers, and repair an “unbushed” gun, all of which was exciting and interesting. Especially the gun bit, believe it or not.

Particularly great was the development of Bush and Hornblower’s relationship. Bush immediately sees Hornblower’s stoical mask for what it is, and his opinion of him continues to evolve from there. First he suspects he may be a coward, then he’s annoyed at Hornblower’s ready assumption of responsibility, then appreciative of his brilliance, then grateful for his solicitous attention once Bush has been wounded. By the end, Bush is honestly pleased for his friend when Hornblower is promoted from his subordinate to his superior.

This series has been great fun to read, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. When next I read it, though, I think I’m going to go in internal chronological order, since the jumping around is getting a little tiresome.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester: B+

From the back cover:
This year is 1793, the eve of the Napoleonic Wars, and Horatio Hornblower, a seventeen-year-old boy unschooled in seafaring and the ways of seamen, is ordered to board a French merchant ship and take command of crew and cargo for the glory of England. Though not an unqualified success, this first naval adventure teaches the young midshipman enough to launch him on a series of increasingly glorious exploits. This novel—in which young Horatio gets his sea legs, proves his mettle, and shows the makings of the legend he will become—is the first of the eleven swashbuckling Hornblower tales that are today regarded as classic adventure stories of the sea.

Mm, back cover, you lie a little bit. This is the first chronologically, yes, but it is the sixth in order of publication.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is a collection of short stories spanning the first five years of Hornblower’s career. Only two follow in direct sequence, so there is very little by way of narrative flow. I missed a long over-arching story, but still found the stories very entertaining. One of them, “Hornblower: The Frogs and Lobsters”, was rather dull, though it ended well. My particular favorites are “Cargo of Rice,” “Spanish Galleys,” and “The Duchess and the Devil.”

One thing Forester did exceptionally well was make young and inexperienced Hornblower recognizably the same character that readers following publication date will have already encountered later in his career. I also really liked seeing him interact with others of equal rank, actually joking around and stuff. Still, my favorite stories were those in which he was in command, so I guess I still like him best in that capacity.

Lord Hornblower by C. S. Forester: A

From the back cover:
The Admiral’s face was grim as he gave Commodore Hornblower his orders. The situation was critical: mutiny was an infection that could spread through the fleet like the plague and, furthermore, the defiant crew of the Flame were threatening to go over to the French. St Vincent has put his faith in Hornblower. Hornblower knows he must not fail. Yet neither man dreamt, on that day in 1813, that the mission would result in a peerage—and a death sentence—for Horatio Hornblower.

This book was totally going to get a perfect score until the last fifty pages or so. It just went on a bit too long. The material at the end felt a bit rushed, possibly just to tie up with Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not as good as the rest. The ending was still strong.

Prior to that point, I was loving all of Hornblower’s internal struggles, his endearing insecurities and quirks, his brilliant solutions, the interesting chilly conflict between he and his wife, not to mention the quick action. This is a book that was completely engrossing from the first page, and to have it sort of sputter near the end was disappointing.

One especially neat thing Lord Hornblower did was raise of the question of what kind of man Hornblower would’ve become if there hadn’t been a war on for his entire life. It really made me excited to proceed on to the next books in the series, which take place earlier in his career chronologically, to see what sort of youth he was when he started out.

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.

Flying Colours by C. S. Forester: A-

From the back cover:
Captain Horatio Hornblower now bides his time as a prisoner in a French fortress. Even if Hornblower escapes this fate and somehow finds his way back to England, he will face court-martial. As fears for his life and his reputation compete in his mind with worries about his pregnant wife and the possibly widowed Lady Barbara, the indomitable captain impatiently awaits the chance to make his next move.

Hornblower on land! Primarily, at least. There’s a decided absence of naval adventure and battle in this one, and a lot of introspection. Thankfully, Hornblower is fascinating and complex enough for this to be an interesting prospect. He just has his moments of… boyish desperation, I guess, where I’ll sympathize with him no matter what he does.

Although things did occasionally drag a little bit in the middle, I love, love, love the ending. Forester really has a knack with these, and avoids doing anything too cliche or tidy. I shan’t give it away, but it definitely makes one want to get the next book right away without being some sort of cheap cliffhanger. Highly recommended.

Ship of the Line by C. S. Forester: A-

From the back cover:
His Majesty’s Ship Sutherland—of two decks and seventy-four guns—is a humdrum ship of the line. But in command is none other than the heroic Captain Horatio Hornblower and, with his crew from the Lydia, look set (sic) to take on commando raids, hurricanes at sea and the glowering menace of Napoleon’s onshore gun batteries—which Hornblower must deal with as he sails his ship to the Spanish station.

I absolutely loved both the beginning and ending of this book, the latter especially. I am going to have to check out the sequel far more quickly than I had planned. The middle section dragged a little bit, however, and I think it part of the problem was because during that section, Hornblower wasn’t able to command his ship in independent action. (He’s, like, the Jack Bauer of the Napoleonic War when left to his own devices.)

This volume was a lot more gruesome than the last, but I didn’t think it was excessive, just a very grim reality of war. There’s also more about the internal structure of command, now that Hornblower has to work in concert with some other ships. The introduction of Admiral Leighton adds an interesting dynamic, though I want to smack him soundly.

I must note that Hornblower, with his ability for mental calculation, could very easily tread into too-perfect territory if not deftly written. Thankfully, it’s abundantly clear that he is thoroughly and genuinely miserable and self-conscious, and thus can be sympathetically regarded as a hero.