Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Review of Mr Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester (1950)

1794 and seventeen year old Horatio Hornblower is starting his career in the British Navy.  Despite his reserved nature, clumsiness and naivety, Hornblower is bright, has an inner determination and does not want to be seen to be weak.  As such, he’s prepared to do his duty and to take calculated risks.  Not long after boarding his first ship and sick of being bullied he challenges a shipmate to a duel where only one pistol is loaded.  His brave but foolhardy tactic earns him a transfer to a larger war ship.  What follows is a series of adventures fighting the French and Spanish at sea and on land as Hornblower comes of age and works his way towards gaining promotion.

Mr Midshipman Hornblower was the first book chronologically in a series of eleven books charting the career of Horatio Hornblower as he worked his way up the career ladder in the British Navy and tussled with French and Spanish forces.  The book is written as a set of interlinked short stories, with each chapter telling the tale of a mini-adventure.  The tactic ensures an even, quick pace, that there is plenty of action, danger points, and critical decisions, and that the tale can span a handful of years.  It also ensures that it crosses over into young adult market.  Some of the tales are a little weak and underdeveloped, but what makes the book compelling is the character of Hornblower, who matures quickly, learning to take control and act bravely and honourably, but doesn’t lose his insecurities.  The result is an enjoyable adventure yarn.

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