Recently adapted into a series of well-done made-for-TV movies produced by A&E, this set of eleven novels have been avidly read for over two generations and are as popular today as when they were first published. They recount stirring adventures in the Royal Navy during the era of the Napoleonic wars and paint a vivid picture of the Senior Service at a time when it grew to dominate the world's oceans. In particular, the series follows the career of a fictional English seaman during Napoleon's era, from his beginning as a young midshipman until old age as an admiral. The history contained and the accurate nautical and geographical information alone make them worth the read, but the stories themselves will delight.
(If you can find it, there is a book, currently out of print, called The Hornblower Companion, which offers the story of the writing of the series, as well as maps and charts to go along with the books. An invaluable addition to your collection if you are really into the history of these books!)
The discount on this item cannot be combined with other discounts or specials. Also, there are no hardcover editions (or boxed sets) of the Hornblower books in print.
It has been a few months since I embarked on my voyage with Horatio Hornblower. I sailed through all eleven books eager to start the next one as soon as I finished the one I was in the middle of. They permeated my thinking until I began talking in nautical terms. I would tell my younger brother that he was the senior officer in charge and I would say things like, "The wind seems to be backing southerly and blowing on our quarter, our best point of sailing." But then, I've long been captivated by ships and sailing and the sea: my bedroom has that as its theme. It's no wonder I should enjoy escaping into that world for a time and Hornblower was an enjoyable enough companion to cruise with, close hauled on the port tack.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (my favorite) introduces Horatio Hornblower as a gangly, awkward, seasick, and extremely sensitive young man, the most junior officer on his ship. Though this book comes first chronologically, it was published thirteen years after C. S. Forester's first Hornblower book was published. Thus Hornblower's character has already been developed, the author's writing skills have been fine-tuned and now he's just having fun filling in the gaps. Every chapter in this book is almost like a short story and each one kept me guessing right up until the end when I had to laugh at the surprising twists. Hornblower's character as a quick thinking, calculating (though very self-critical) officer is well established.
Lieutenant Hornblower reveals Hornblower through the eyes of Lieutenant Bush, an older, cautious and serious senior officer. Bush gets to know Hornblower by watching his facial expressions, listening to his daring plans and seeing him in action. We grow to love Bush as well as getting to know Hornblower from another perspective.
In the next two books (Hornblower and the Hotspur and Hornblower and the Atropos), Hornblower is commander of small, handy ships which he cleverly handles to outsmart the enemy and win the respect of his superiors and the support, trust, and love of his men. Hornblower's ability to think quickly, seize opportunities, and surprise the enemy wins him victories, though good fortune is definitely on his side as well. And as always, Hornblower is dissatisfied with himself while everyone else is praising his success.
After these comes Hornblower During the Crisis, the last book that C. S. Forester wrote. It has a promising beginning, but we'll never know how it was supposed to end, because the author died before he could finish it. It has a fun beginning and leaves you speculating what new achievements C. S. Forester had in store for Hornblower. It also includes two short stories, one set on the Renown, during Hornblower's lieutenant days and the other set much later on when he's an old man.
Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, and Flying Colors are practically a trilogy about Captain Horatio Hornblower. These were C. S. Forester's first Hornblower books to write and they are not his best, in my opinion. In these ones, as well as the next two (Commodore Hornblower and Lord Hornblower), Hornblower gets older, his ships are bigger and less handy, he gets higher up in command and his clever brain doesn't have as many problems to overcome. He gets more and more self-critical and every time he's in the middle of a heated battle he wonders if some stray bullet is going to hit him and end his life then and there.
Also, I began to realize that he's never content. When he's at sea, suffering the discomforts of a sailor's life, he wishes he were at home with his wife. When he's on land he longs for the freedom of his own command. He's especially discontent with women. He wants Lady Barbara, even though he's married. His wife dies and he gets Barbara, but then he has an affair with another woman. Hornblower is very human and thus realistic, but I prefer to read about characters that make me want to be a better person.
Once I picked up Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies, I knew I was near the end of my voyage. This book was written after Hornblower and the Atropos and it is in the same style as Mr. Midshipman. It is peacetime; the bloody Napoleonic wars that raged for a generation are finally over. Hornblower is older and age has softened him; he's still self-analyzing, but he's not as critical as before. He is kinder towards his men and feels almost fatherly towards his junior officers. He and his wife Barbara have grown closer and yet they can still surprise each other. Each story had me laughing at the end, especially the first one, which makes me chuckle every time I think about it.
And now my voyage with Horatio Hornblower is over; we sailed into port—after making a perfect landfall—and put down our anchor. For almost thirty years Hornblower served in the Royal Navy and we get to follow him from sensitive and seasick midshipman, to legendary admiral. He gets to do everything from holding a bridge from the French and firing red hot shot to capturing a ship much bigger than his without firing a shot or losing a man. He negotiates in Spanish with El Supremo, barters in French for news from fishermen, and convinces the Great Czar of all Russias to make a stand against Napoleon. He is captured by the Spanish and then pardoned; he spends time in a French prison and then escapes from an armed guard of twenty gendarmes in the heart of France. He interacts with pearl divers in the Mediterranean, blockades French ports in the English Channel, and gets captured by pirates in the Caribbean. The only thing that doesn't happen to him is that he's never a spy, and that's what he would have been had Forester finished Hornblower During the Crisis.
These eleven books, well-written, full of vivid descriptions and similes, are a fun read (even the ones I didn't like as well were worth reading). I would also highly recommend reading The Hornblower Companion, if you can find it. It has maps for each of the major battles that Hornblower is involved in and includes a section in which C. S. Forester describes what went into writing the series. He tells about how he thought he was done with Hornblower after each book but Hornblower just wouldn't leave him alone. Well, I'm glad he didn't!