Hornblower: Beat to Quarters (Hornblower Saga)

by C. S. Forester

Paperback, 1985



Call number




Back Bay Books (1985), 324 pages


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 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 the happily married captain were not woefully distracted by the passenger he is obliged to take on in Panama: Lady Barbara Wellesley.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Hornblower was the inspiration for Star Trek's Captain James Kirk, as well as Cornwell's Sharpe. Hornblower is more cerebral and socially awkward than Kirk, more educated and refined than Sharpe. In his own right, Hornblower is certainly an engaging and complex character and the series is an
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interesting study in leadership, and a fascinating portrait of life at sea in the age of sail.

Beat to Quarters (The Happy Return in British editions) is sixth chronologically, but was the first one published, and a strong case could be made for starting with this one. For one, the first two books really are outliers, the first more a collection of short stories than a novel and the second told from a point of view other than Hornblower's. The friend who recommended these to me told me to at least start with the story of Hornblower's first command, Hornblower and the Hotspur. I'm also rather fond of Lady Barbara, who is introduced in this novel--not many opportunities in a series about adventures at sea in the Age of Sail for female characters to make their mark. I think the writing and delineation of Hornblower's character got sharper in the ensuing novels though.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2001
The sixth Hornblower book chronologically, this was actually the first written, which results in some rather bizarre discontinuities as you might expect. Oh, bits of Hornblower's history don't match up-- he's probably never served with Bush before, and Bush certainly wasn't first mate on his first
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command as depicted in Hornblower and the Hotspur-- but Hornblower's character is a little off as well. This man's need for emotional detachment comes across as almost insane at times, though the death of Hornblower's children at the end of the previous installment sort of explains that. If you squint a bit. Continuity issues aside, I wasn't entirely sure what there would be to enjoy in this book, as I'd already experienced it twice in other media, namely the Gregory Peck movie and the 1952 radio series. I needn't've worried. There's more than enough added bits and character introspection to make this superior to either adaptation. Surprisingly, the romance with Lady Barbara was even almost palatable here, thanks to our ability to get Hornblower's inner thoughts regarding it. (I think it would be better in writing order, where we wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet Maria first.) The best part of the book, which utterly blew me away, is the final battle between Lydia and Natividad; one of the back cover quotes calls it best battle in naval fiction, and it's pretty much right.
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LibraryThing member TadAD
A bit awkward, a few inconsistencies with other volumes (this was the first one written), however, this book is long on action. You can either read the series chronologically or start with this one since Mr. Forester spends some effort on "introducing" Hornblower to the reader.
LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
This one's the first book in the Horatio Hornblower saga... or the sixth. It all depends how you count them. This one's the first that was published, but it takes place in the middle of Horatio Hornblower's life. I can't quite recall why I decided to read this after the other first one, but I did.
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It's a great tale, telling of Captain Hornblower's adventures in the Pacific off the coast of Central America. There are scenes of action and conflict, but also of introspection. I think I'm going to have to make room for the series on my shelf... and then figure out which one of the series to read next.
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LibraryThing member MuseofIre
Some exciting action/adventure, but Hornblower is a horrifying character who is pathologically unable to express what he feels. Can't hold a candle to the Aubrey/Maturin series.
LibraryThing member Homechicken
This is probably the best Hornblower book so far in the series. Hornblower is sent to the Pacific Ocean side of South America on a special mission to aid a local governor against the Spanish. When he arrives, he finds that the guy he's supposed to help is now going by the name "El Supremo" and is
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more than a little crazy. Hornblower captures an aging ship of the line, the Natividad, the only Spanish vessel that could threaten his mission in the Pacific, and El Supremo claims it as his own. Later, Hornblower receives a message that England and Spain have made peace, and he now has to go after the Natividad again and stop him from killing the Spaniards.

This story introduces Lady Barbara, who apparently becomes a major character later, but as of yet has just met Captain Hornblower. Lady Barbara and Hornblower certainly feel affection for one another, but it only complicates Hornblower's life and career.

I enjoyed this book quite a lot, and understand that it was the first chronologically written book in the series. I hope the next few books are even better.
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LibraryThing member ocianain
Maybe the single best volume of nautical fiction.
LibraryThing member sggottlieb
I loved the Paul O'Brien Aubrey books and was recommended the Hornblower series. The Hornblower books are faster moving and easier to read. They also explore the character of the protagonist a little deeper.
LibraryThing member JBreedlove
Another good Hornblower book. Exotic Pacific Nicaragua is the local for sea battles and local crazies. CSF is over the top on Hornblower's mental problems but he is less caricatured toward the end w his passion for Wellesley. A great ending sentence.
LibraryThing member buffalogr
Quintessential Hornblower. This one's a movie, starring Gregory Peck, made in 1951: "Horatio Hornblower, RN." Unlike former books in the series, this one's a whole story, not a collection of stories. In this plot, the bad guy is a Panamanian named "El Supremo"--great sense of humor, that Forester.
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And, HH's ship blows up his nemesis ship and sinks him: the description is moving. Further, HH flubs a romance that will probably come back to bite him later. Our hero should have worked out some of his social foibles by his age, 37, in this book. But does not. Oh well, let's see what the next one brings?
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LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Bless you, Horatio, for inspiring the creation of Mr Roddenberry's starship captain, but I think I'll stick with Nathan Peake for any future sea adventures. There's only so much introspective gnashing of teeth, while the crew look on in admiration, that I can stomach! Seriously - Hornblower spends
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half the novel (Forester's first naval sortie, granted) pacing up and down the deck, beating himself up for a million imagined flaws, before snapping into gear and blasting the enemy ship out of the water. His attempt at appearing 'a strong silent capable man, unmoved by emotion' makes him more priggish than proud, and his 'sullen obstinacy' might be mistaken for sulking. I had more admiration for Lady Barbara, Hornblower's improbable shipboard dalliance!

Forester's writing is easier to digest than Patrick O'Brian's, and I have already ordered the film version with Gregory Peck on DVD, but I found nothing endearing about Hornblower's constant fretting and pacing. I can see the parallels with Captain Kirk - stubborn determination blended with the loneliness of command, not to mention a cultured appreciation of literature (I'm talking the original Kirk here, not the reboot) - but not enough to maintain my interest, sadly. And the omniscient narrator, referring anachronistically to 'globetrotting' and Florence Nightingale, only served to distance me from Hornblower even more.
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LibraryThing member JHemlock
Not enough can be said about these stories. Forester was a master. I can only imagine reading these books if I had been a teenager or young man in the 30s or 40s. Better yet I can imagine some sailor reading it during WWII while serving in the Pacific. The books are amazing and very well thought
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out adventure and daring do.
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LibraryThing member shadrachanki
Beat to Quarters was an interesting read, and I quite enjoyed it. It contains plenty of action and high-seas adventure and a cast of colorful and entertaining characters. There were a number of places where I wished I had a reference of nautical terminology (I am still uncertain as to the exact
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state of a ship that is hove-to, for instance), but this did not dramatically affect my enjoyment of the text.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the romance element between Horatio Hornblower and Lady Barbara. It seemed almost an afterthought in some respects, and it also seemed somewhat rushed. Plus, sailor or not, Hornblower is married. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in later installments of the series.
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LibraryThing member ritaer
This was the first book written in the series and it is a little odd to read it in the order of republication since Hornblower's personality and his relationship with Bush are altered as the series expanded on either side of the events of this volume.
LibraryThing member benkaboo
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
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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.


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.
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LibraryThing member usnmm2
This is the first hornblower book Foster wrote but 6th in the overall series. Have read all in this series but this is still the best and maybe the best of this type of book.
LibraryThing member kslade
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.


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Physical description

324 p.; 7.75 inches


0316289329 / 9780316289320
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