C.S. Forester,
Ship of the Line
(Little, Brown & Co., 1938; Back Bay, 1999)

Picking up almost immediately after the conclusion of Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line takes Horatio Hornblower and his crew aboard the 74-gun HMS Sutherland to escort a convoy of merchant ships to safety and patrol the coast of Spain.

Action, of course, follows hard on his heels. And, once he rejoins the fleet, he is given the freedom of three days to take his own initiative against Napoleon's forces. In the pages that follow, Hornblower orchestrates an astonishing, pulse-pounding series of assaults by land and sea. This right here is ample evidence why Hornblower, the character, is a brilliant navy captain and why C.S. Forester, the author, was a brilliant writer.

Hornblower also in this book proves himself willing to break the rules to achieve greater ends for Britain, from pressing sailors from untouchable East India merchant ships to ignoring his fleet admiral's presence long enough to launch an assault on French troops.

Hornblower is certainly no paragon of ceaseless heroism, however. He is plagued with feelings of cowardice and self-doubt, at times even self-loathing, although those feelings never interfere with his duty. Even more disturbing are his attitudes regarding his wife, Maria; while his hidden love for Lady Barbara Wellesley is undeniable, his thoughts are at the very least uncharitable and at their worst, downright rude.

Of course, Hornblower's flaws are as much a part of him as his virtues, and this classic series continues to impress every step of the way.

review by
Tom Knapp

28 November 2009

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