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Hornblower : Beat to Quarters (1937)

by C. S. Forester

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Horatio Hornblower (6), Horatio Hornblower: Chronological Order (6)

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2,046297,996 (4.09)40
June 1808, somewhere west of Nicaragua - a site suitable for spectacular sea battles. The Admiralty has ordered Captain Horatio Hornblower, now in command of the thirty-six-gun HMS "Lydia", to form an alliance against the Spanish colonial government with an insane Spanish landoner; to find a water route across the Central American isthmus; and "to take, sink, burn or destroy" the fifty-gun Spanish ship of the line "Natividad" or face court-martial.… (more)
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English (27)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (29)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Great historical sea adventure with Capt. Hornblower and a dictator, El Supremo, in Central America.
I had read about 4 of these novels in Jr. High and High School, but I never read this one, which is actually the first one that was written but not in chronological order of the stories. Well written. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
Summary: Classic Hornblower. Taking on the impossible odds and upholding his honour at all costs.

Things I liked:

Hornblower: great character, with great flaws and strengths.

Naval battles: so tense, every moment it could go any which way I also liked that they didn't shirk away from the total destruction that gets handed out to all sides in these sorts of battle.

Things I thought could be improved:

It ended kind of abruptly I would have liked more.

When they won the big prize at the start I knew they wouldn't get to keep it. That shows a kind of cliché in the story that should have been avoided.

Highlight:

The final ship battle had me on the edge of my seat. It pulled no punches and after reading so many of these in the previous books it's great to see that he can keep it so fresh and interesting. ( )
  benkaboo | Aug 18, 2022 |
That was surprisingly good and a bit different than i expected. Hornblower is i think 37 in this a little older than i imagined. The story is also more brutal and realistic than i was expecting. Both realistic in its violence and in its politics.
There's also a very strong female character which always makes a nice addition to this sort of thing. I was trying to figure out who Hornblower reminds me of and then i realized its Captain Picard from star-trek :) , it really is a very similar character which is a very good thing in my opinion.
Overall only nitpicks is its tendency to assume you know all of not the nautical terms (and also how to play whist ;) ).
High seas adventure really isn't my favorite genre but this is good, enough said. ( )
  wreade1872 | Nov 28, 2021 |
The best in the series so far ( )
  jimgosailing | Nov 18, 2021 |
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. If I didn't know Forester had later been a propaganda writer during WWII, if I hadn't already taken to Patrick O'Brian, and if I knew nothing about Forester's personal history, I would have enjoyed this much more. I do think an author ought to consider more in their audience than a blank slate though. And they should definitely sort out beforehand whether or not they want to a) write their feelings unashamedly on their sleeve and/or b) manipulate political feeling in their audience. This puts a huge drag on the story. Hornblower is as overburdened with authorial baggage as he is with his duty.

First, the good. The descriptions of sailing, of the details of this wooden world, are excellent. It doesn't reach the point where you think Forester might have actually lived during the Napoleonic Wars, but it is colorful and immersive. The battles, in particular the brutal slog with the
  • Natividad
  • , are thrilling. A bit melodramatic, but that's more Hornblower's gloss on them (we'll get to that). The story is also satisfying despite an abrupt ending. It has enough adventure that it could sit comfortably next to Treasure Island without batting an eye. Lastly, I felt there was a lot of enjoyable and interesting dialogue between genuinely crafted characters (whenever you start talking to them, you know the author has done a good job).

    Now for what I didn't enjoy.

    I'm not sure anyone could honestly be a fan of Hornblower as a person. He's not a pleasant fellow. And not in the gruff-but-actually-a-teddy-bear way. He's just downright repellent as a main antagonist. And I'm fairly certain that was Forester's intention. But the fact that I don't know for sure makes me uneasy about Forester's reasons for writing. There is much of autobiography in the first Hornblower outing. Forester originally wanted to write a fact-based Hollywood screenplay with high-seas adventure. But
  • Captain Blood
  • beat him and Hornblow/Busch & co. to the idea. Meanwhile a fading opera star was threatening a paternity suit, so he fled to Britain, meeting a lovely photographer in the voyage. Clearly Hornblower (at least in this book) is meant to be Forester as Forester wanted to be.

    But is cathartic autobiography all there is to Hornblower's unpleasantness? A subtle thread throughout the story is Forester's proto-propaganda mind at work. The book seems to be saying Hornblower is an unpleasant person, but only because duty drives him there. He's racked with personal detriment, but also very obviously a talented and brave individual. There's a subtext message there about the hard life of a commanding officer, and how underlings should always obey because poor Captain Hornblower just can't feel good about himself or anyone. That message is aimed particularly at male citizens, Barbara's renaissance-lady attitude notwithstanding. She's summarily put in her "proper" place after the bloody fight with the
  • Natividad
  • , and falls for Hornblower (alas, Hornblower is already in an unhappy marriage--woe for duty!). Furthermore, the uneasy allies at the beginning of the story become the enemies by the end, clearly a message that those at war can only rely upon themselves to conquer and win the day. The whole book is riddled with this kind of thought, and I can't chalk it up to historical point of view either. These are very obviously Forester's thoughts, and not his attempt to varnish with historical accuracy.

    I'll keep reading Hornblower, but it's so overburdened by Forester himself that it's not a terribly enjoyable experience. Perhaps as the character grows into their own more, he'll distance from Forester's personal drama. I don't foresee doom-and-gloom Hornblower drying up on the propaganda though. If anything, that will probably increase as the character's (and the author's) experience of war continues. ( )
      yorga2020 | Aug 30, 2020 |
    Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
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    » Add other authors (3 possible)

    Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
    Forester, C. S.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
    Case, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Graham, W.D.Contributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Gruffudd, IoanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Herrera, AnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Howard, GeofferyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Mollema, J.C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Renner, LouisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Rodska, ChristianNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Stępień, HenrykaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Urban, A. J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    von Bothmer, FritzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Wyeth, N. C.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
    Доброхотов… ЕкатеринаTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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    It was not long after dawn that Captain Hornblower came up on the quarterdeck of the Lydia.
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    (Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
    Disambiguation notice
    Original (UK) title: The Happy Return.
    USA edition title: Beat to Quarters.
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    June 1808, somewhere west of Nicaragua - a site suitable for spectacular sea battles. The Admiralty has ordered Captain Horatio Hornblower, now in command of the thirty-six-gun HMS "Lydia", to form an alliance against the Spanish colonial government with an insane Spanish landoner; to find a water route across the Central American isthmus; and "to take, sink, burn or destroy" the fifty-gun Spanish ship of the line "Natividad" or face court-martial.

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    Book description
    June 1808 finds thirty-seven-year-old Captain Hornblower and his thirty-six-gun HMS Lydia somewhere west of Nicaragua. The Admiralty has commanded him to form an alliance against the Spanish colonial government with an insane Spanish landowner; to find a water route across the Central American isthmus; and "to take, sink, burn or destroy" the fifty-gun Spanish ship of the line Natividad or face court-martial. A daunting enough set of orders--even if happily married Hornblower were not woefully distracted by the passenger he is obliged to take on in Panama: Lady Barbara Wellesley.
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