After having read “The Ship” by C.S. Forester, and after having noted that many of my favourite books cited the Horatio Hornblower series as inspiration or sources, I decided to track them down and read through them. I understand there are two ways to read them: chronological order, and order of writing. I like a consistent story so I’ve chosen to read them chronologically. Therefore, I started with Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.
Horatio Hornblower is an officer in the British Royal Navy during the time of the Napoleonic Wars. This book represents the start of his career; a seventeen-year-old Midshipman, fresh from the life of a landlubber. That’s actually quite late to become a sailor; most Midshipmen of the time got their start from a much younger age.
Each chapter is written like a complete story in and of itself; which, I’m given to understand, is exactly how it was written (I’ve been told the stories were published independently in adventure magazines and then compiled into a book; but I can’t confirm that). So it’s a great little before-bed or in-the-bathroom reader because you can read one chapter at a time.
Hornblower as a youth has two fatal flaws: a need to not show a weakness in his knowledge or skills, and a sense of fairness and honour that is firm to a fault. However, he makes up for these shortcomings with incredible bravery; a determination to take his lumps and succeed anyway, even when his own flaws have put him in a bad situation; and a complete lack of desire to whine. Overall I like him very much and I think Forester’s character is excellent. As a result, reading about his adventures, and his reactions to them, makes for very good stories.
The Hornblower books, along with the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, represent the iconic stories of the Age of Sail era, and have inspired the recent Honor Harrington books by David Weber, as well as one of my favourite authors and series, the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Having now read at least one of the books, I see the influence and I find a strong comparison. If you value Navy and military stories (especially in science fiction) you really should give this one a read.
I’ll be working my way through the rest of the series and I will keep you informed.