Forester, C. S. Commodore Hornblower.

Boston: Little, Brown, 1945.

It’s 1812 and Captain Sir Horatio Hornblower has been ashore for six months. He’s the new squire of Smallbridge and that life is beginning to chafe. Then he’s called to the Admiralty and offered a commodore’s job — first-class with a broad pennant, like a temporary, small-scale admiral. Napoleon is contemplating an invasion of Russia but the Czar wants to avoid a fight.

At the same time, Sweden (now under Bernadotte) is considering war against France, but Russia recently invaded and absorbed Finland, which has pissed off the Swedes. Can Britain convince both those countries to join her against the Emperor? So Hornblower’s little squadron is sent off to the Baltic with very loose orders.

Hornblower has an intuitive knack for diplomatics, so when the opportunity comes for him to visit the court of Czar Alexander at the Peterhof, he jumps at it. And Bernadotte just happens to be visiting Alexander at the moment. But what the commodore doesn’t know is that Mr. Braun, the Finnish interpreter he’s been assigned, and who has reason to hate both monarchs, has a double assassination in mind. Happily for the Czar, even though the Commodore is getting older (he’s around 36 years old now), he’s still a warrior and he still wears a sword. “There are very few occasions in history when timidity was wise.”

Most of this series (of which this is the ninth volume by internal chronology) don’t really follow a particular historical theme, but this is the exception, and the theme is the beginning of the end for the French Imperium. And Hornblower is right at the tip of the pointy end of the weapon — the Royal Navy squadron supporting the defense of Riga — that caused it all to happen. Or at least had a very major supporting role. Forester has a style, and a grasp of the minutiae of naval life, that holds the reader’s attention, and which will have you reading the entire series again every decade.

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