Book Reviews

Book Review: Lieutenant Hornblower by C.S. Forester – Swashbuckling Adventure, Lifelong Friends, and a Lunatic Captain

The second book chronologically in the Horatio Hornblower series, written by C.S. Forester, finally brings together a cohesive story coupled with plenty of adventure and intrigue. It reads much better than the first book (chronologically) in the series.

Lieutenant Hornblower has Horatio assigned to the ship Renown. A new Lieutenant arrives by the name of Bush, and the story within is told from his viewpoint. He and Horatio will become great friends, but must first get past this posting, with a Captain whose mental state has deteriorated. The stress and strain of serving aboard a vessel under these conditions show as Captain Sawyer is paranoid on one hand, while on the other being lenient with members of his crew who need discipline. The result is near chaos as the crew attempts to cross the Atlantic with the Captain in possession of secret orders.

Eventually, an accident occurs and the Captain is gravely injured. Suspicion is coupled with relief as both Bush and Buckland, the senior Lieutenants on board the Renown are suspicious of the circumstances which led to the Captain’s fall. Confined to a sickbed and heavily medicated, the weight of their mission sits on First Lieutenant Buckland’s shoulders.

Much of the action takes place in the heat of the West Indies, or what was known as Santo Domingo at the time. The descriptions are excellent, making me easily able to picture the men there in heavy uniforms having to fight off insects, heat, and exhaustion as well as their enemy.

Forester does a terrific job with his characters. He shows how Horatio manages to put ideas into the heads of his superiors and instructs them on what they should do, all the while appearing deferential to the chain of command. Yet it is he who comes up with a way for their mission to succeed in hopes of a successful meaning will quiet any questions about Captain Sawyer’s condition. Forester shows how both Buckland and Bush become irritated with the young Lieutenant, and at the same time, they have no ideas of their own. Horatio speaks with a conviction that his ideas will succeed and leads his superiors in such a way that they fill in the gaps for him just as he wants.

If I didn’t know already how the outcome would be of the friendship between Lieutenants Bush and Hornblower, it would have been hard to imagine them as friends throughout most of Lieutenant Hornblower. Bush is suspicious of Horatio and at times envious. It’s only near the end when they return to port, where he seems to gain a great admiration for Horatio. It’s in a time of peace when they both have been decommissioned to half-pay that their friendship grows the most as well.

It’s nice to see the characters grow throughout the book, and more importantly, grow together. Hornblower especially is somewhat young and unsure of himself in the beginning while under Captain Sawyer’s command. Once he is given a chance to flourish, he does, and his confidence builds as well. Bush’s perspective is great for showing this change from the beginning to the end, although those distinctive parts of his personality were hinted at in the first novel, which wasn’t as cohesive as this one.

It’s also during this time that the character of Maria is introduced. She will be the one weakness in his personality, the one person he cannot figure out a way to workaround. Bush is on to her and that’s shown right from the start as the two men prepare again for war with Napoleon. It’s nice to see an area of weakness for Horatio as he could seem almost too perfect at times. However, it’s through Bush’s observations that readers see just how intelligent and quick-witted he is, all the while being able to keep a cool head.

The action is excellent. From battles where the Renown must dodge hotshot to capturing a fort on an island to an attempt to recapture the ship by Spanish prisoners, it had me not wanting to put the book down. These moments are linked together by preparation and it didn’t feel as if there was a real-time that Lieutenant Hornblower dragged along.

My one con would be the way Hornblower and others look down on some of those serving with them. The terminology used to describe those they feel are inferior stands out almost as if they aren’t good for much except cannon fodder. At times, it seems that they aren’t even human to those higher up in the command chain.

Knowing a bit of naval terminology would probably help, but I managed to get the gist of what was happening without that in-depth knowledge. Lieutenant Hornblower is a terrific book filled with swashbuckling adventures of a time long past.

Previous book in the series (link): Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester

Next book in the series (link): Hornblower and the Hotspur by C.S Forester

6 replies »

  1. Hornblower was a set book when I was at school. I remember loving the whole series but I imagine the language and attitudes would be a bit dated these days. To be honest I had forgotten all about him so nice to be reminded

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