Hornblower and the Atropos (A Horatio Hornblower Tale of the Sea) Paperback – 1 Sep 2011
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From the Back Cover
1805, and Hornblower is both humbled and honoured in quick succession . . .
After near disaster on board a canal barge, Horatio Hornblower is given his first assignment as Captain, taking charge of the Atropos, a 22-gun sloop that will act as flagship for the funeral procession of Lord Nelson. Soon the Atropos is part of the Mediterranean fleet's assault upon Napoleon, and Captain Hornblower must execute a bold and daring salvage operation for buried treasure lying deep in Turk waters. Under the guns of a suspicious port captain and the threat of a Spanish frigate more than double Atropos's size, Hornblower must steer his ship unscathed and triumphant. . .
This is the fourth of eleven books chronicling the adventures of C.S. Forester's inimitable nautical hero, Horation Hornblower.
'Hornblower is Hamlet in command of a battleship'New York Times
'I find Hornblower admirable, vastly entertaining' Sir Winston Churchill
About the Author
C. S. Forester was born in Cairo in 1899, where his father was stationed as a government official. He studied medicine at Guy's Hospital, and after leaving Guy's without a degree he turned to writing as a career. On the outbreak of war he entered the Ministry of Information and later he sailed with the Royal Navy to collect material for The Ship. He made a voyage to the Bering Sea to gather material for a similar book on the United States Navy, and it was during this trip that he was stricken with arteriosclerosis, a disease which left him crippled. However, he continued to write and in the Hornblower novels created the most renowned sailor in contemporary fiction. He died in 1966.
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Top customer reviews
The adventures range from a race down the Thames and Severn Canal, to a secret mission in the Mediterranean. There is lots of action, all gripping, and Forrester does a fine job invoking the sights, sounds and attitudes of the nineteenth century.
As ever, the least appealing aspect of the book is Hornblower himself, with all his painfully-vain self-reflection. Never mind. Despite Hornblower's personality, this book is enormously entertaining (and slightly educational).
In his five-page introduction of my Penguin edition, Bernard Cornwell notes that Hornblower was not at the Battle of Trafalgar (which would have taken place between the third and fourth instalments), nor in fact was Hornblower present at any of the set sea-battles of the Napoleonic Wars. Cornwell remarks how, "Forester liked to take Hornblower a long way from any superior officer to a place where he had to make the decisions himself." And thus this is the case with `Hornblower & the Atropos'.
Cornwell also declares that `Hornblower & the Atropos', like some others in the series, "is really a succession of short stories". Whilst I can see why Cornwell says this - the novel moves from our hero being on a canal boat in Gloucestershire, via the waters of the Thames opposite Deptford (and the Downs off Deal in Kent) to Gibraltar and the eastern Mediterranean - there is one long narrative taking place here with all events interlinked.
For the reader seeking satisfaction on the high seas, the book's opening sentence might cause bewilderment: "Having climbed up through the locks, the canal boat was now winding over the pleasant Cotswold country." In his `Companion', Forester wrote of his own experience on canal boats. Canals were in 1805 "the miracle of modernity", and Hornblower finds himself discomfited by being only a passenger in a vessel commanded by a former sailor. But even here he finds that, "The law of the sea applied equally in inland waters - the ship first and personal dignity a long way second."
That dignity is treasured more by his young wife Maria than by Hornblower himself, but Forester writes how the captain "was by now a sufficiently experienced married man to realize the advantages of allowing his wife to say what she liked as long as he could continue to do as he liked." But when he holds Maria, who is expecting their second child, however tenderly in his arms, the man's thoughts are on his forthcoming command. That command sees Forester write a whole chapter on Hornblower getting his ship ready for sail from Deptford before we set out on the book's main adventure.
That adventure will see a growing crisis in his ship's position at the other end of the Mediterranean, where it will be for Hornblower "a novel experience to be the mouse instead of the cat". Forester, though, omits from Hornblower's service record his failure to glean personally from the potentially fatally-injured McCullum the means to retrieve the gold that lies buried at the bottom of the bay to which they are heading. This is all the more surprising since egregious self-criticism is one of Hornblower's hallmarks.
And Forester was always good at conveying the fragility of Hornblower's own belief in himself, especially where it might come to loss of face in front of his men. Witness the sharp change in character when Hornblower, who was too suspicious that all was well with the world, suddenly sees a Turkish flag flying from a previously-unoccupied fort. His brief sense of failure at not preparing for such an event even leads him to momentarily contemplate suicide. High up at the mast head, "He had only to let go his hold, to fall down, down to a final crash upon the deck ... that would be easier than to face ... the pity or contempt of his fellow men."
Needless to say, our hero triumphantly succeeds in his mission, and Hornblower lives to fight another day.
The book opens with a comical scene, where Hornblower assists the crew of the barge he is travelling on, when one of the crewmembers is knocked unconscious by a horse. He has to "walk" the barge through a long tunnel and steer the barge down a series of steep fast flowing banks.
Upon arrival in London and after arranging Nelson's nautical funeral cortege and meeting the King, Hornblower sets off on his mission to recover sunken treasure beneath the very noses of the Turkish authorities.
The book ends with a marvellous naval engagement and a substantial `cliff-hanger' in Hornblower and Maria's personal lives.
Fans who have read the first books will not be disappointed with the fourth. This book contains everything we expect of a Hornblower novel; naval terminology, hardships, excitement, disappointment, adventure and naval set pieces.
An excellent read and I'm certainly looking forward to the fifth book.
I have bought the next book in the chronology and I can see in the first pages that it builds and develops Hornblower's character. I am sure I will buy more from the series.
Definitely worth reading.
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