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The First Hornblower Adventures
on August 6, 2007
I don't get it... why is this book so highly rated?
There must be a lot of nostalgic old folks who read these as kids... Or in light of having read the entire series, have decided to have an unusual opinion in order to sound erudite in matters of Hornblower. Or they could know something which I don't; however, let me respectfully submit that Beat to Quarters is pretty mediocre as action/adventure/historical fiction novels of the 1930's go. The characters seem contrived, the archvillian hopelessly cliche, and the storytelling is painfully explicit. Not to say that I didn't enjoy it, because I did -- the pacing is good, and as forced as it may seem, Forester is trying to create interesting, complex characters, which pays off in the later novels. The writing improves tremendously too, so keep with them if you can.
Righto, the summary. Horatio Hornblower is captain of the frigate Lydia, the sole English ship wandering about the Pacific. Horatio is marked by his reserve and and critical powers which he applies as vigorously to himself as that which surrounds him, but despite all this, he is garrulous, and therefore has a habit of saying "Ha... H'm" in conversation to avoid speaking too much. Lieutenant Bush is loyal, but, as we are told, unimaginative, so it's up to Horatio to come of with all the brilliant plans. He has been sent on a mission to aid in an uprising against the Spanish in Central America, but, as the delegate of a morally disinterested third party, he finds that alliances can be slippery things... There's a bit of romance mixed in with all the sea battles, but since Horatio never quite gets clear of trouble, there's not a dull moment throughout the entire 250 odd pages... That's probably all I can say without giving away the rest of the story -- I recommend Beat to Quarters for anyone who wants a light read and is a fan of seafaring stories of the Napoleonic era.
We have to compare O'Brien and Forester, right? From what I've read of both of them, O'Brien is the better writer, but Forester is a lot more readable. Hornblower doesn't feel as historic, which is partly because Forester didn't do his research quite as throughouly, but also because O'Brien succeeds in creating characters which feel genuinely "foreign". Jack and Stephen are not men of our time to be sure, but this also makes them a lot more difficult to relate to.
Well, there's my two cents. :)