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.