This is a novel in the Horatio Hornblower Saga by C. S. Forester. It is now 1810 and the Napoleonic Wars are still raging. Captain Horatio Hornblower has now been assigned command of a fine ship of the line, a two-decker, and 74 guns, called HMS Sutherland.
Hornblower’s love Lady Pamela Wellesley has married an admiral whose ego considerably outweighs his talents, and as faith will have it Hornblower has been appointed into his squadron. With very little time to prepare and very short-handed, the Sutherland is sent to sea to first do convoy duty and then later to harass Napoleon’s flank and blockade the Mediterranean coast of Spain to prevent supplies from reaching the French.
Sutherland does a good job during the convoy duty, and then afterward Hornblower is fortunate enough to be let loose to cruise the Catalonian coast. Now Hornblower stages an astonishing sequence of solo raids against the French in the span of just a few days. Each raid is more challenging and inventive than the previous and each requires his cunning ability to calculate risks to the fullest. Needless to say, Hornblower wrecks considerable havoc. As a result, he captures a number of prizes and makes a large amount of prize money. But even so, his Admiral is not very pleased with him.
The end of this novel is a spectacular cliffhanger. Hornblower is more or less forced, partly by his admiral and partly by his own fear of being viewed as a coward, to engage four French ships of the line on his own with Sutherland with the rest of the squadron just over the horizon. With such odds, his concern is not with winning, but with doing as much damage as he possibly can. The resulting battle is one of the most gruesome ever in the Hornblower saga – a truly epic battle.
This book really is a book that you will probably find very hard to put down. There are so much action and excitement that I could hardly take a break from it. In addition, it is very well written by C.S. Forester. Ship of the Line is clearly among the best in the Hornblower Saga.