Monday, May 14, 2012

33. The Happy Return by C.S. Forester

I found this beautiful paperback at S. Welch's and finally got through to it on my long (but shortening) on-deck shelf.  It turns out this is the first of the Horatio Hornblower books (and the fourth chronologically).  It's neat, because it isn't obvious that this is the first book in the series.  A lot of references are made to Hornblower's younger days and one might think (as I indeed did while reading it) that those references were to actual events in previous books (which they may well be).  So far, I've read Commodore Hornblower and Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies.  This one is possibly my favourite.  I found the story straightforward as well as the historical context around it, so I could just enjoy it for what it was without trying to figure out what the hell was going on.  It delivers on all the great characterization, locations, intrigue and sea battles that makes this series so well-loved.

In it, Hornblower is sent with a frigate on a secret mission to Central America where he is to aid a local baron and landowner in his efforts to foment revolution against the Spanish government.  When he gets there, he finds that this baron has turned into an insane and cruel cult leader, who calls himself "El Supremo".  Hornblower, trapped between the reality of the situation at hand and the political exigencies of his masters far away, is faced with moral and strategic quandaries that would best even the most capable of leaders.  On top of all this, he has to take on a passenger, the lovely and well-connected Lady Barbara Wellesley.  Forester serves up a delicious stew of everything the fan of adventure on the high seas could ask for plus a big dollop of romance.  This is great stuff and further cementing my appreciation of this series.

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