Hornblower and the Atropos
by C.S. Forester
There is a little adventure at the beginning and end of this book, but the main body has to do with an attempt to recover sunken treasure off the coast of Turkey. All this involves not only vivid accounts of naval techniques but also hairraising adventure and the internal drama of the character one critic (according to my book jacket) called "Hamlet in command of a warship." This character is simply so wonderfully drawn, I'm sure it raises the reader's stakes in the suspense and danger that surrounds him.
From exultation to despair you follow him, opening on a boat ride with his wife and son across merry England, then through his stay in London where he is called upon, virtually simultaneously, to organize and lead the floating funeral procession for Admiral Lord Nelson (the hero who was killed at Trafalgar), to prepare his new ship (the 22-gun sloop Atropos) for sea, to comfort his wife as she gives birth to their second child (a daughter), and to prepare to be presented to King George. Meanwhile he catches a severe cold and finds himself in command of His Britannic Majesty's great-nephew, a German-speaking boy-prince in exile, who is followed everywhere by a very belligerent doctor-cum-Secretary of State. Once at sea he has to break them into the ways of British seamen.
His mission, and he has no choice but to accept it, is tricky enough: with the aid of a Scottish expert and three Ceylonese pearl divers (from what is now called Sri Lanka), he is to violate the shaky neutrality of Turkey and recover a sunken cargo of silver and gold that went down in a sheltered bay there, without causing an embarrassing international incident OR being ripped off by the Turk. This would prove to be hard in any case, but in this case the German doctor shoots the Scottish expert in a duel, and partly by means of the man's massive strength, partly by the daring surgical techniques of the very doctor who shot him, and partly by sheer miracle, the Scot doesn't die of his wounds but (what is very important to Hornblower's mission) recovers enough to lead the salvage operation.
Then of course there are problems with the Turk of the sort no one could be expected to recover from, requiring some daring and precision sailing; and later there is an exciting chase with a much larger and better armed Spanish frigate in which the Atropos alternates between being the hunter and being the hunted, occasioning both a harsh lesson for the Prince and an eye-popping battle, none of which prepares Hornblower for the final fate of his command of the Atropos or what he finds when he gets home...
This is one of the few books in the series that does not have Bush in it. I missed him. Instead of Bush, Hornblower has a rather nervous and incompetent fellow named John Jones as his first lieutenant - actually, the 9th of 12 Lt. John Joneses on the British navy's list, in order of seniority. As usual Hornblower's melancholy, self-analytical personality combines with the loneliness of command to keep him at arm's length from everyone, plus some of his early (bluffing) tactics convince his crew that he's a bloodthirsty monster. It's always kind of sad, seeing him to grow to like and respect some of his men, but being unable to be familiar with them because of the need for discipline and his own very reserved nature.
Recommended Age: 14+
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