Book Reviews

Book Review: Hornblower and the Hotspur by C.S Forester – The Rise of a Hero

The third book in this series by C.S. Forester easily comes in as the strongest so far. The characters who have been introduced earlier in the series build on the qualities seen earlier and become much more multi-dimensional. The war with Napoleon is beginning and brings with it a degree of action that had me turning the pages and looking for excuses to continue reading.

As the novel begins, Hornblower has committed himself to marrying a woman he does not truly love out of some sense of duty or obligation. Although the time seems festive enough, his thoughts betray him. He is not marrying into a family which will help him gain stature in the Navy. Although he has been promoted to Commander and been given his own ship, the H.M.S. Hotspur, that is the highest he can expect to go in the British Navy without someone to do a favor on his behalf. This point is made several times over the course of the novel.

With his friend Lt. Bush by his side, he is sent to patrol off the coast of France near Brest to try and figure out exactly what “Bonny” is up to. He gains the favor of a French fisherman whom he purchases both fish and secrets from. His tactical skill in battle and quick thinking enable him to gain notoriety with Admiral Cornwallis much the same way he was with his Captain, Pellew, earlier in the series.

While at sea, his son is born. Hostilities with Bonaparte heat up, and the prospect of significant prize money is put in front of him. While all of this is going on, he is put in the care of an excellent cabin steward who cares for the Commander most judiciously until he is accused of mutiny. Hornblower is torn between his feeling and his sense of duty when it comes to what is to be done with the man.

There is so much to like about Hornblower and the Hotspur. The pacing of the book is excellent. There is a good balance between Hornblower’s personal life, most of which is shown through letters, and what is happening in his career at sea. The action at sea is written excellently and builds through the story. Forester glosses over the downtime with the ship but does so in such a way that it keeps the book flowing.

I loved being able to get into Hornblower’s head as much as Forester allows. I could understand how he sees himself in so many ways. His self-loathing is evident as he continually beats himself up over incidents he feels he handles poorly. Even as both his crew looks up to him and others in the Navy which to bestow praise on him, he shies away from it, seeing himself much differently than how others see him.

One point where it might bog down for some is the intense use of naval terms. In some cases, I looked up the information to better understand what was going on. However, most of the time I was able to reason out what was happening based on how Forester described what people were doing. He definitely hasn’t dumbed down the book for his audience but has put down a challenge to those of us who enjoy the series.

Hornblower and the Hotspur develops the character quite well. I understand the novels weren’t written in order, and this was written sometime after the original trio of novels which come after this chronologically. It seems Forester spent much time rounding out the character he created and giving his backstory to bolster what is known later on. I found the novel overall to be well-rounded with a good deal of insight into the character combined with the intrigue and action of wartime.

It might have been nice to have some other perspective at times and know what was going on in Bush’s head from time to time, for example. Hornblower and the Hotspur is clearly from the main character’s perspective.

The ending builds nicely toward the next novel in the series, while at the same time not leaving such a blatant cliff-hanger that I felt cheated. Hornblower and the Hotspur is a terrific novel for those who enjoy historical novels. Its attention to detail and flowing nature make it a terrific read. I loved curling up with it and losing myself in an era two hundred years prior.

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

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