Days of Sail - Horatio Hornblower

The book is written in a series of self contained episodes which were first published as 9 separate stories in the Saturday Evening Post.

Forester's chronology is not internally consistent but the 17 year old Mr Midshipman Hornblower arrives in Portsmouth in 1794 to join HMS Justinian where is first claim to fame was to be seasick while at anchor at Spithead. Described as a skinny young man only just leaving boyhood behind, a little above middle height the young Horatio was painfully shy and reserved. Without patronage the Justinian was the best that he could manage with a sick captain, inefficient first lieutenant and elderly midshipmen. Regularly humiliated and bullied he eventually finds an excuse to challenge his tormentor to a duel. With no particular skill with sword or pistol he proposes that only one pistol should be loaded which would give him an even chance. In fact at the captain's order both pistols are unloaded.

With a repuation for cool headed courage from the duel his captain determines that the protagenists must be separated and arranges for Hornblower to take a berth in HMS Indefatigable newly commanded by Sir Edward Pellew (later Viscount Exmouth). The stories take Hornblower from a "wet behind the ears" new midshipman to a resolute acting lieutenant despite his self doubt. Forester avoids real events with the capture of the , one of Pellew's most noted actions simply ignored. A fireship attack on Gibraltar interrupts his examination for lieutenant, which he was about to fail, allowing him to distinguish himself while preserving his seniority.

He returns to The Rock as prize master of the sloop La Rêve where, as a commanding officer, he is invited to dinner at Government House with Sir Hew Dalrymple. While the young Horatio has matured physically since the start of the novel we have a delightful scene where his slender calves have to be padded to ensure that he shows a "good leg". He is given orders to take the sloop to England with despatches, a mark of approval that should see his promotion confirmed. At the reception he is introduced to "Lady Wharfdale" actually an actress named Kitty Chobham who had been stranded in Italy and was playing the role to ensure a passage home, which is to be provided by Hornblower.

On the voyage home the encounter thick fog and find themselves in the middle of the Spanish fleet breaking out of Cadiz. Forced to surrender Kitty, who has admitted her real identity, hides the despatches under her skirts and continues to play the part of the duchess so that the Spanish will repatriate her. When the despatches are finally delivered Hornblower is rewarded by having his promotion confirmed which allows him, as a prisoner, the privilages of an officer. He then participates in the rescue of some shipwrecked Spanish sailors and is picked up by a British frigate but, as he had given his parpole, he is honour bound to return. Eventually though the Spanish release him in recognition of his bravery and he returns to service having acquired a command of the Spanish language.

Hornblower's promotion to lieutenant is covered by a novel and two short stories.