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New Issues and Challenges for Hornblower!
on 2 July 2004
Most Hornblower fans will either be strongly attracted to Commodore Hornblower . . . or strongly repelled by it.
In the beginning, this book's mood shifts greatly from the earlier books now that Hornblower is rich and famous, and happily married to Lady Barbara. His glittering brothers-in-law are off winning critical battles, and Hornblower feels like he needs to keep winning some semblance of renown in order to retain Lady Barbara's respect. The book starts off slowly, therefore, in setting the stage for Captain Sir Horatio Hornblower's elevated status in society and in the fleet.
As a commodore, Hornblower has a small squadron under his command, including one ship of the line, the Nonsuch (seventy four guns), commanded by Captain Bush. Hornblower's orders give him the "widest latitude of discretion to enter the Baltic Sea and create problems for Bonaparte, who is threatening both Sweden and Russia in the spring of 1812. Secretly, his brother-in-law, foreign secretary Marquis Wellesley, warns Hornblower that he should be prepared to assist the Czar in leaving St. Petersburg should Napoleon invade and overrun Russia. Within the Baltic, the Russians have 14 ships of the line, and the Swedes almost as many.
Nearing the Baltic, Hornblower knows that the Danes are hostile, having been conquered by the French. So he steers away from their batteries nearing the Baltic. But are the Swedes still neutral? There's only one way to find out. Run under their batteries and see if they fire?
Political events rapidly develop, aided by Hornblower's diplomacy and deceptions. By winter, the Grande Armee has invaded Russia, reached Moscow, and been shattered by the Russian weather. Hornblower, in the meantime, is attempting to thwart an attack through Latvia aimed at capturing the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. The action, once it begins, will remind you somewhat of the best parts of Ship of the Line.
For those who wish to follow the armed conflicts in the book, I suggest you refer to the Hornblower Companion's maps to see where the action is set.
Two other new elements become important in this story. Hornblower is getting older, and begins to develop an interest in his younger officers not unlike a father would have for a son. Yet these "sons" are in deadly peril. How will that affect Hornblower?
The other new perspective is that Hornblower spends a lot of time with diplomats, political figures, and even heads of state. These added dimensions will be attractive to those who would like to see new sides to Hornblower. If you read a lot of historical fiction, you will find this book comes closer to the classic story where the fictional character interacts frequently with well known historical figures.
Since Hornblower and Bush are both captains, you find their relationship becoming more like equals as it was in Lieutenant Hornblower. I enjoyed that shift.
Much like Hornblower and the Atropos, Commodore Hornblower takes some interesting looks at new technology, including naval mortars and methods for reducing the draft of bomb-ketches.
How can a leader set a good example? How should setting the right example be balanced with the need to get the right results? In Commodore Hornblower, Hornblower is torn between leading all of the action and encouraging his men to do the right thing. It's obviously a delicate balance that you will enjoy as Hornblower once again foils the Corsican tyrant in his own small way.