This first Hornblower book that Forester wrote was BEAT TO QUARTERS, and that is still arguably the best Hornblower book to read first (though not the best in the series). Because MR. MIDSHIPMAN HORNBLOWER comes first in the saga's timeline, though, many readers start here and unfortunately do not get Hornblower at his best point of entry. The pacing of this collection of stories simply does not grip the reader as well as that of the novels. I'm sure they worked fine when published individually in the popular magazines of the day, but when clutched together like this, an awkward lack of fluidity results. That said, MR. MIDSHIPMAN HORNBLOWER is still an excellent book, rich with fascinating incident and detail, and anyone who has started the series will certainly read it -- the whole series is just too good! Certainly by the last episode in this book, quite a long story, the young Hornblower has gotten into the thick of it and you have begun to find out (if this...
For those of you getting started with this series, here is the series order (hey, we need to know this in order to buy the darn books!): Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, Hornblower and the Hotspur, Hornblower During the Crisis, Hornblower and the Atropos, Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, Flying Colours, Commodore Hornblower, Lord Hownblower, Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies. The other titles you'll see are different 3-in-1-cover combinations of the above titles, though not always in series order (go figure), Cadet versions of the same titles above by different titles (REALLY go figure), and companion books. There IS one omnibus, so I'm told, with some short stories in it that fall chronologically somewhere in the time span covered by the first three books, but I don't know any more than that yet.
The 'Hornblower' novels by C. S. Forester are all consistently entertaining and fun, but the first novel in the series, 'Mr. Midshipman Hornblower,' is a rather slow start. Rather than a single novel, it is a series of short stories revolving around Hornblower's first years at sea. While the stories maintain that sense of adventure that are Forester's trademark, it lacks a consistency which is to be found in the later volumes. 'Mr. Midshipman Hornblower' is must reading for fans of the series but for those new to the 'Hornblower' novels perhaps a better introduction would be to read 'Lieutenant Hornblower,' the second novel of the series.
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