Age of Sail / Book Review / Book Series / C S Forester / Horatio Hornblower / Nautical Fiction / Royal Navy

Commodore Hornblower, by C.S. Forester

Commodore Hornblower (UK title: The Commodore) was the fourth Hornblower book to be written, but in the internal chronology of the Hornblower saga, it is the eight. It is among the best books in the Hornblower Saga,

It is now 1812, and Hornblower has been knighted for his gallant escape from France, has purchased the manor Smallbridge, and is now married to the woman of his dreams, his beloved Lady Barbara. The book starts with an extremely delightful scene from their new home. He seems to like his new life, but even so the only place he really feels at home is at sea.

So it is with more than a little relief he receives new orders from the Admiralty, appointing him a Commodore and sending him off to a delicate mission in the Baltic region with a small squadron of his own. His flagship is HMS Nonsuch, a 74 gun two-deck ship of the line. His orders are to do what he can to prevent Napoleon’s progress in the region. He is, however, placed in a delicate situation: If he fails, literally the entire continent of Europe will be allied with Napoleon against solitary England. Should he succeed the tide of the war may, on the other hand, be turned.

His first success is when his squadron meets an English merchant vessel that seems to behave strangely, and obtains the information that leads him to destroy a French privateer in Swedish waters. By doing this he provokes a French action that alienates the Swedes and makes them align themselves with the Russians.

Then later he is ordered to assist the Russians in defending the city of Riga from the rapidly advancing forces of Napoleon. His does this in his own, very intelligent and quite dashing fashion, and once again distinguishes himself when a hopeless siege defense is turned into a brilliant rout and gives Napoleon’s army a taste of defeat.

Commodore Hornblower has most of what you want from an excellent nautical fiction book: Hostile armies, seductive Russian royalty, difficult diplomacy, nautical perils such as ice-bound bays, and assassins in the imperial palace, bomb vessel action, and tough fighting. And Hornblower gets to meet the Tsar of Russia, Marshal Bernadotte of Sweden and Clausewitz.

And in the midst of his considerable success, Hornblower, of course, is his usual self – brave and brilliant, but even so all the time full of self-doubts. A very human and fascinating hero.

There are very few authors that can write as funny, ironic, exciting, and realistic as C. S. Forester. Commodore Hornblower is simply a very entertaining and wonderful book!