by C.S. Forester
Unlike Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
, this is really a novel. At the end of the previous book, Hornblower received his Lieutenant's commission while rotting in a Spanish jail, then was released after risking his own life to save others and after turning his back on a real chance at freedom in order to keep his word that he wouldn't try to escape. In contrast, Lieutenant Hornblower
is told from the point of view of a certain Lieutenant William Bush, who comes aboard the HMS Renown
where Hornblower is already serving.
There are five Lieutenants on board, and though Bush is the latest to arrive, Hornblower has the least seniority (based on the date of his commission). Bush is third, and number one is a rather weak and indecisive fellow named Buckland. The Captain, unfortunately, is a paranoid madman named Sawyer who is so convinced that his officers are conspiring to mutiny against him that he actually forces them to do so, at dire risk of being court-martialed and hung. Ironically, the captain's fear of his officers dangerously undermines the discipline of the rank-and-file sailors, who cannot be expected to obey the Lieutenants when the captain so clearly despises them. That is, the officers consider mutiny because they fear that the captain's fear of mutiny will lead the rank-and-file sailors to mutiny. Get it?
Well, put it this way: the captain is a desperately sick man, in the head, and this creates an atmosphere of fear and tension that you can cut with a knife. For the first several chapters of the book, in fact, I could truthfully say that Captain Sawyer is one of the most ominous and frightening characters I have ever met in fiction. Eventually things become so dangerous that, one night, the Lieutenants actually do begin to talk about relieving the captain of command. But then something dreadful happens, and the adventure is underway... an adventure where young Bush, our "point of view" character, develops at first a gruding respect, then a devoted affection toward the even younger Hornblower on account of the latter's clear-headedness, energy, resourcefulness, bravery, and over-all competence.
Their adventures center around an important strategic mission against a Spanish fort in what is now the Dominican Republic, and involves battles with artillery, feats of seamanship and landsmanship, and a developing friendship. In the end, Bush is badly wounded, Sawyer is killed, Buckland is discredited, and Hornblower--having distinguished himself with flying colors--is given a field promotion to Commander and a command of his own, to sail back to England...where, in a stroke of bad luck, he finds out that the war with France is over (peace of Amiens, 1801), his promotion is not confirmed, the fleet is mothballed, most officers are left out of work and on half-pay, and worst of all, because his promotion didn't go through, Hornblower's half-pay is stopped until the overage from his temporary promotion is deducted back...
So in the end, Bush finds him living in debt, nearly starving, unable to afford even a coat in the harsh Portsmouth winter, and forced to make a living by playing whist at a gambling parlor (where he loses almost as much as he wins). And that's TWO YEARS after the Peace of Amiens, when Bush finds him in this pitiful state, this great hero of the King's navy who can barely keep soul and body together. But at the very end of Lieutenant Hornblower the spectre of Napoleon rises over Europe, and there are rumblings of war... a return to glory and service on the seas... and marriage for the proud, contrary young man you have come to admire very much.
Recommended Age: 14+
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