While I was waiting for more Honor Harrington books to be delivered, so I could read them, I had the following thought: If Honor Harrington is just Horatio Hornblower in space, then why don’t I read Horatio Hornblower not in space? So I picked up C. S. Forester’s Beat to Quarters and in quick succession Ship of the Line and Flying Colours — because it turns out that, whether in space or at sea, Horatio Hornblower is a fun read.
Which isn’t to say that Hornblower really is Harrington at sea; as obvious as the similarities are, Forester’s works are very different from Weber’s. For one thing, Hornblower is not actually a demigod superhero. He’s competent, sure, but he’s a flawed human being. He’s very insecure; he has to work hard to overcome his natural tendencies and act the stern, capable captain; he’s socially awkward and occasionally a bit of a prick; and he’s prone to depressive fits of brooding. But fundamentally, he’s a sympathetic character who can sail a ship like nobody’s business, which he does to good result in these three books.
As period works of the Napoleonic Wars, these are more successful for me than Patrick O‘Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, if solely because they’re more comprehensible. This isn’t a time period I know much about, and sailing is neither a special area of expertise for me, and Forester seems to make fewer assumptions about what I already know. In one sense, these might be good books to read as an introduction to O’Brian — by the time I finish the dozen or so Hornblower books, I’ll be able to take on tales of nautical adventure with a lot more comprehension, I expect.
But these aren’t just books to read while waiting for something else to arrive, or to prepare for something else. These are legitimately good books in their own right, and recommended highly to anyone who might be interested in broadsides and topsails.