C.S. Forester,
Lord Hornblower
(Little, Brown & Co., 1946; Back Bay, 2000)

After reading through 10 books, all focused on Horatio Hornblower's thrilling exploits in the British naval war against Napoleon, one wonders how England ever won the war without C.S. Forester's fictional hero actually there and participating. For, as Forester makes quite clear, it was Hornblower and Hornblower alone who thwarted French ambitions at sea time and time again, who led Russia into the war against France and who toppled the first domino in a long succession of declarations against the blood-thirsty, power-hungry emperor.

In Lord Hornblower, Horatio returns to sea after a crippling illness, not to take arms against the French but to negotiate with an English crew that has done the unthinkable and mutinied against its captain. But when the fugitive crew takes shelter in the lee of France, Hornblower sees a series of unfolding opportunities -- first to strike a blow against French trade, then to foment open rebellion among the French citizenry. Soon, he is acting as governor over a major coastal city ... and with that firm foothold on French soil, Napoleon's defeat is assured -- although not without cost.

Peace -- Hornblower doesn't remember what it's like. But peacetime presents its own challenges, both at home in England and abroad -- in Vienna, where his wife Barbara plays a role in negotiations for the new Europe; in France, where Hornblower visits old friends; and on Elba, where Napoleon refuses to retire quietly. There is plenty of danger and death still to come. Even Hornblower makes a betrayal of sorts that seems somewhat out of character.

Lord Hornblower lacks the high adventure at sea that marks the majority of this series, but it has plenty of action, splendor and sorrow amid the historic conclusion of Napoleon's reign. On the negative side, there is only one novel in the series remaining.

review by
Tom Knapp

13 February 2010

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