** Contains Spoilers!**
These mini-reviews are written for the Hornblower fan - not for the newcomer. If you haven't read the books then please don't read this page - it reveals some of the plotlines and may spoil the stories for you - besides you will want to make up your own mind before reading what I have to say.
The Happy Return: Hornblower Alone
Hornblower in the Pacific encounters capricious opposition, capricious allies and capricious fate. Far from home, and far from help, he copes admirably with the twists of fate thrown at him one after another. A theme of the book is authority - isolated in the pacific Hornblower has been invested with almost god-like authority over his crew, and this contrasts nicely with el Supremo, who claims the same for himself.
An excellent book, with the best battle scenes in the series, strong on plot and introducing a host of familiar figures.
A Ship of the Line: The Buccaneer
Maria and Barbara have their first, and only, encounter, after which Hornblower sails up and down the Mediterranean Coast encountering many adventures, but eventually losing everything.
A marvellous book rich in incident and adventure, a fast moving story ranks with Hotspur at the top of the list for plot. Hornblower is at his best with a marvellous heroic climax.
Flying Colours: Escape through France
In a book set almost entirely ashore, Hornblower dramatically escapes through France, displaying all of the unattractive facets of his personality: behaving badly at the Gracays, seducing Marie (breaking the heart of woman who, years later, will follow him to her death,) and sulking peevishly with Bush before receiving an uncritical hero's welcome in England.
CSF investigate what makes a hero, and how wide the gap can be between the public and the private man. Fair is foul and foul is fair as Hornblower at last achieves fame and wealth by surrendering, and happiness with the woman he loves - via the death, and abandonment of the two women who most loved him.
The Commodore: The Ice Man
Hornblower reaches middle age, and has acquired security, fame and contacts which propel him to the cold and icy Baltic, where he fights a scientific, amphibious, politically calculating war. The impenetrable chaos and unpredictable politics of the Baltic is contrasted nicely with the scientific precision and inevitability of the siege. Hornblower struggles to establish an effective relationship with his subordinate captains and agonises over the decisions he makes.
For reasons I have never been able to pinpoint, I have always thought of this as a gloomy book. So when I read The Hornblower Companion I wasn't at all surprised to find that CSF wrote this book on the brink of death. Perhaps what the book lacks is incident - and sea battles, but it makes up for this in thoughtfulness. The themes are politics, and the difficulties of command. In a familiar device (Atropos, Ship of the Line) the book ends on a downbeat note.
Lord Hornblower: The Lucky Escape
A British mutineer and traitor meets a violent end at the hands of Hornblower, who later affords a more generous reception to a French one. Hornblower's marriage falters and, betraying Barbara, he resumes his affair with Marie. Although largely land-locked the book nevertheless keeps up a quick pace right to the marvellous ending.
A book about betrayal and treachery - in political, naval and private life. What circumstances and motives drive people to betrayal? When can it be justified? Does it always attract the penalty it deserves? CSF uses the remarkable reverses of history of 1814 and 1815 to good advantage.
Mr Midshipman Hornblower: The Early Days
Hornblower joins the Navy as a boy and by the end of the book is a young man - and a Lieutenant to boot. The book contains a succession of short stories tracing the eventful incidents in his journey, some exciting, some ingenious.
Not one of my favourite books - in essence I think it is a place-filler - written to fill in the gaps of Hornblower's early life rather than as a result of a good idea for a book. As such, it may be of interest more to the established Hornblower fan than to the newcomer. CSF is at his best describing the agonies of command and responsibility but command is largely absent from the life of a Midshipman. The best stories in this book are when he finds it - The Cargo of Rice and The Duchess and the Devil. A strength of the book is Hornblower's gradual maturation, as is the well depicted misery of adolescence.
Hornblower and the Atropos: Fun at Sea
Hornblower is established as a family man as he sails through the English canals accompanied by a comedy boatman and a comedy sausage.. At sea he gains a comedy surgeon, a comedy midshipman and comedy sailing master. He hunts for treasure and finds it; he is outwitted by, and subsequently outwits the Turks.
A fun book, CSF contrives a laugh out of even Nelson's funeral, with a light-hearted plot and style - which CSF maintains throughout - until the last, heartbreaking page
Lieutenant Hornblower: The Open Hatchway
A young Hornblower, made strangely remote by CSF's use of Bush as narrator, impresses with his intelligence, resourcefulness and leadership. Meanwhile a mad captain makes life terrible for everyone. The West Indian backdrop adds colour, and Hornblower's awkward relationship with Bush, and Buckland, his superior officers, is captured well.
A slower moving plot than many other books, the book is primarily a careful study of authority and command: how it is used and abused, how it is acquired, earned and lost.
Hornblower in the West Indies: Loose Ends
The only book set entirely in peacetime, but nonetheless Hornblower manages some exciting adventures as Admiral commanding the fleet in the West Indies. The tone of the book is often reflective with young Gerard, the crewmen on Bride of Abydos, the West Indian setting and even Ramsbottom's eventual resemblance to El Supremo all around to remind Hornblower (and us) of earlier days. In the same spirit Hornblower and Barbara finally lay to rest the ghosts that have haunted their marriage and find peace with one another.
Hornblower ends his career in the same literary style as it began - a series of episodic, largely unlinked, but nevertheless well constructed short stories. The weakness is the same as in Midshipman: Hornblower is at his best (as is CSF) as a ship's Captain. However, an enjoyable book with Elizabeth of Hungary providing the unlikely highlight.
Hornblower and the Hotspur: Trouble with Stewards.
Patrolling the English Channel Hornblower enjoys the services of three different stewards, two of them commit court martial offences, but evade punishment in very different ways. Hornblower gains a promotion, a wife a son, and also a mother-in-law.
One of the best of the books, packed with excitement, variety and incident. Marvellous contrasts between naval and family life, both marvellously evinced in a rollicking adventure