Wednesday, March 16, 2011
15. Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies by C.S. Forester
Helping to feed the Age of Sail reading frenzy that is going on chez nous this Spring in anticipation of our extremely gradual but progressing forward Beat to Quarters game, meezly found a really neat old hardback copy of one of the last Hornblower books. These are the true classic adventure stories of the British Imperial Navy, pre-dating and most certainly influencing Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey and Maturin series by several decades. I have read one other Hornblower, Commodore Hornblower, which is also late in his career. Clinging desperately to the fact that the books were not originally written in chronological order, I have pretended to myself that I am abandoning any care about following Hornblower's career in order and avoiding spoilers and thus jumped right into this novel, which chronicles the end of Hornblower's career as he patrols the West Indies. To be honest, I wanted to read H.M.S. Surprise, the next in the Aubrey-Maturin series and I knew that meezly had a copy, but she kept it hidden from me and then started reading it herself. This was a fine consolation prize, however.
It's interesting from a historical perspective. It takes place in 1818-21, when the big sea wars were all over and Britain's naval dominance, especially in the new world, had receded dramatically. Though still a powerful diplomatic force in the West Indies, Hornblower's fleet is relatively small, with a frigate carrying 12-pounders as his biggest vessel. No more ships of the line here. Because of this, he is often outclassed either in firepower or speed and has to use his skill and wits to resolve situations. He is really more like a policeman here, hunting down pirates, smugglers and political criminals. The book is actually a series of short stories, two of which are connected. The whole thing does trace a complete narrative about this period of his career, his 3-year separation from his wife, but there is no single over-arching storyline. All the stories are excellent, with the final one being a real cracker, once again keeping me up past my bedtime and getting me over-stimulated.
It's cool, because when I was in high school and college, I didn't find this period all that interesting. I think I just couldn't relate to the goofs in their buckled shoes and restrictive manners. It's also so complicated. But now I am learning to realize how much there is to appreciate about this period, the revolutions against monarchy around the world, the burgeoning technologies of transport that were changing the face of the world, the crazy political intrigues. So much going on and so much opportunity for adventure!
(Note, the cover pictured here is the same cover that meezly found, but not an actual scan. Ours is a book club edition and had one rip in the upper middle and another smaller one where I stupidly picked at the glue after successfully getting the price sticker off.)