Read Time:4 Minute, 10 Second
These two books are part of a series Hornblower’s Legacy by author James Keffer. It is fan fiction set within the framework of C.S. Forester’s Hornblower novels. In betweeen the two that I read are four books about a naval officer associated with Hornblower William Brewer. (I think Keffer made up the character, but it’s possible he was in Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies), but I just read the first and last, which about principally about Hornblower
The first book fits in several years after the events in Lord Hornblower, and finds Hornblower appointed to the governorship of St. Helena to deal with a restive former emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The second book takes place over 20 years later, long after Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies, and follows Hornblower’s adventures as the British representative to the exhumation of Napoleon prior to his repatriation to France.
Overall, I enjoyed both stories greatly, and didn’t see anything that I thought was grossly inconsistent with the originals, nor bad writing. There are several points I think are to be made, though.
First, Hornblower and the Island, the first book in the series, follows Forester more closely. In every book except Lieutenant Hornblower – which follows Bush instead of Hornblower – Forester follows Hornblower only, spending a great deal of time on Hornblower’s internal struggles and monologues. By contrast, Keffer willl have scenes where other characters are the subject, such as Lady Barbara or Napoleon. The second book is full of this, and the scenes with Hornblower are, while perhaps still the majority of the scenes in the book, only a part of the tale. Perhaps unavoidably, the internal struggles are almost wholly absent.
Which leads to my second small nit. Following his elevation to the peerage, Hornblower’s wife should be identified as Lady Hornblower, not Lady Barbara, but Keffer never does this. It’s a minor point, but is odd that after Forrester specifically explains this point in Lord Hornblower, Keffer doesn’t pick up on it. Perhaps he thinks that Lady Barbara would still continued to have been used informally.
Which leads me to my third point. Keffer, perhaps unavoidably, has Hornblower become more garrrulous and positively chatty. It is perhaps unavoidable that in fan fiction writers will avoid the withering self-criticism that Forrester has Hornblower engaging in throughout the series, but I couldn’t help but see some places where he missed some opportunities for Hornblower to question himself and instead had him sharing doubts and concerns openly, in some cases with Barbara, which is simply not in character, as the last two Forester books make clear. He simply cannot unburden himself with anyone with the possible exception of the Comte de Gracay, yet he does so here.
Of course, Keffer is writing about times where Hornblower should have been less prone to self-doubt and self-analysis, and certainly he may have been able to overcome it later in life as in the second book, but it still seems to leave out a central part of the character.
The other major hole in the books was in Hornblower’s immediate adoption of Bonaparte as someone he not only respected but considered a close friend. With the first book following fairly closely on the heels of Hornblower’s traumatic experiences during the Hundred Days when Napoleon tried to return to power, including the death of Marie Gracay, it simply did not make sense to me that given what Forester says Hornblower thought in that book, Hornblower would have been so friendly to Napoleon immediately. The reasons why he would have eventually respected him and developed a friendship were well presented, but he should have started from a much more hostile position, and engaged in a great deal of self-doubt and loathing, weighted down with guilt over the countless friends and the lover that Bonaparte’s activities had killed before he reached the point of friendship that Keffer has him at. That friendship should have been hard-won and the central theme of the book, but it is simply a given. Again, I read this almost immediately after reading Lord Hornblower, and it just didn’t mesh with what Forester was saying in that book that Hornblower was thinking.
I won’t spoil the one major change Keffer makes to the Hornblower canon, but I can’t help but wholly approve of it. If Star Trek could do it, surely Hornblower could be given a little grace.
In the end, I enjoyed the pair of books very much – I think I read the second start to finish in a single day. I don’t think I am going to read the Brewer books, but I do recommend the Hornblower ones if you care about the character in the series. They reminded me a little of the Downton Abbey movies. They take characters that you care about and only subject them to mild worry. I’m okay with that.