C.S. Forester,
Hornblower & the Atropos
(Little, Brown & Co., 1953; Back Bay, 1999)

It's amazing how much can happen without the usual flash and bang of cannons and broadsides at sea.

Hornblower & the Atropos finds Horatio Hornblower, still a newly minted captain in the British navy, doing quite a lot of things that don't involve sailing into battle with Napoleon's fleet. For instance, he finds himself walking a canal boat through a long, dark tunnel in England. He organizes and leads the flotilla that carries and escorts Lord Nelson to his final rest. He takes a disinherited European prince under his wing. He transports a trio of divers from Ceylon to the Mediterranean to recover a lost British treasure lost at sea and matches wits with the Turks. And he plays a deadly game of tag with a Spanish frigate.

It's a lot to ask of the captain of a small, 22-gun ship, but Hornblower tackles every task like it was the most important mission in the world. At the same time, he is plagued with constant self-doubt and recrimination, second-guessing his motives and becoming his own worst enemy.

Atropos is not action-packed by any stretch, but it is packed stem to stern with historical detail and rich characterizations that make C.S Forester's novels such a joy to read. Now five books into this classic series, I find it hard to put down a Hornblower tale even for the basic necessities such as sleep and work! It is a thoroughly enjoyable problem to be so engrossed in a story.

review by
Tom Knapp

24 October 2009

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