I read this and loved it in the 1970s and it was just as good this time around. This is the first Horatio Hornblower novel, although later novels were set earlier in his life as a Midshipman and Lieutenant. Here Hornblower is the captain of an English frigate circa 1803. He is sent around Cape Horn to Central America on the Pacific side to assist El Supremo, a local despot who is trying to free his natives from Spanish rule since England and Spain are at war. The idea is to stop the flow of gold and other riches from the New World and Asia that is funding the Spanish war effort. A Spanish ship of the line is patrolling the waters and Hornblower’s tiny Lydia must take on the larger Natividad.
The book is not for the squeamish. There’s plenty of grisly naval warfare, not to mention descriptions of shockingly harsh living conditions and discipline aboard the ship, but the attention to detail is amazing, and very convincing. It’s astounding to think what men went through to amass and protect the British Empire. I found it refreshingly free of political correctness. The author writes in terms appropriate for the day – terms like Dago and Negress abound, and women are treated as incompetent children needing a man’s protection, or at least that’s the mindset of all the men at first. I especially like the ongoing theme of intelligence and good moral character prevailing over evil and brutality. Everything a captain needed to consider and plan for in those days is mind-blowing.