Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is the “first” book of the British “Age of Sail” Horatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester. The version of the book I read, published by Back Bay Books, lists it as the first volume in the series because they have chosen to release the books as they are placed chronologically within Hornblower’s life. However, this was the sixth book in the series to be written and published (in 1950, when the first book came out in 1937) and therein lay what flaws the book has.
The book not a typical novel, but rather a collection of ten short stories. The stories detail the early events of Hornblower’s naval career. The first story, “Hornblower and the Even Chance”, begins at about 1793 with the seventeen-year old Hornblower coming aboard his first vessel as a raw wet behind the ears Midshipman. By the last story of the book we’ve seen him mature as a naval officer, and as a young man, and at the end of “Hornblower the Duchess, and the Devil” he earns his rank as a Lieutenant (setting the story up for the next book chronologically, Lieutenant Hornblower). In between his experiences run the gamut from bold success to utter failure, we see Horatio grapple with the sort of decisions he has to make while in command, and suffer the consequences of his decisions.
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The third, and final, book of the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman, “The Magician’s Land” is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Released in 2014, and still available only in hardcover, the novel brings the story of Quentin Coldwater to a close. In it Grossman does two things that I haven’t run across very often: he uses genre tropes to write serious literary fiction, and the ending of series is amazingly well written.
When the first book of the trilogy, “The Magicians” came out back in 2009 I was sold a copy of it on the premise of it being “Harry Potter for adults”, but that sold the book (and the series) far short of what it is. The story of Quentin began with him taking an unplanned diversion in life, one moment he was heading to an interview to attend Princeton and the next he was taking an eccentric test to enter a magical college called Brakebills in upstate NY. From there he learns to work magic, discovers that the Narnia’esque fictional world of Fillory is real, he falls in love, has his heart broken, fails, succeeds, and saves the world a few times along the way through the twelve years that the three books spans.
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