C.S. Forester,
Flying Colours
(Little, Brown & Co., 1938; Back Bay, 1999)

For all that Horatio Hornblower is one of the great literary naval captains of the age, he spends very little time at sea in Flying Colours.

Colours is the eighth book of the enduring C.S. Forester series, and it is also the conclusion of the mini-trilogy in the middle (beginning with Beat to Quarters and Ship of the Line) that Forester first wrote back in the late 1930s to start it all. Here he pays the price for his highly successful actions against the French; forced to strike his colors against overwhelming odds at the end of Ship of the Line, he now languishes with his crew in a French prison awaiting trial for alleged war crimes against Napoleon.

Certainly it will be no surprise that Hornblower, his first mate Bush and his coxswain Brown break free of their guards en route to trial. The chapters that follow detail their escape down a wild and icy river, their eventual refuge and plan to get to the coast and away to England once more.

It speaks well for Hornblower (and, even more so, Forester) that this ship's captain performs so well as a protagonist even when deprived of his natural place at sea. While Hornblower's insufferable self-loathing, guilt and recriminations do at times grow tiresome, his endlessly clever mind and action-packed successes assures he will remain a beloved character for generations to come.

review by
Tom Knapp

12 December 2009

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