From the back cover:
This year is 1793, the eve of the Napoleonic Wars, and Horatio Hornblower, a seventeen-year-old boy unschooled in seafaring and the ways of seamen, is ordered to board a French merchant ship and take command of crew and cargo for the glory of England. Though not an unqualified success, this first naval adventure teaches the young midshipman enough to launch him on a series of increasingly glorious exploits. This novel—in which young Horatio gets his sea legs, proves his mettle, and shows the makings of the legend he will become—is the first of the eleven swashbuckling Hornblower tales that are today regarded as classic adventure stories of the sea.
Mm, back cover, you lie a little bit. This is the first chronologically, yes, but it is the sixth in order of publication.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is a collection of short stories spanning the first five years of Hornblower’s career. Only two follow in direct sequence, so there is very little by way of narrative flow. I missed a long over-arching story, but still found the stories very entertaining. One of them, “Hornblower: The Frogs and Lobsters”, was rather dull, though it ended well. My particular favorites are “Cargo of Rice,” “Spanish Galleys,” and “The Duchess and the Devil.”
One thing Forester did exceptionally well was make young and inexperienced Hornblower recognizably the same character that readers following publication date will have already encountered later in his career. I also really liked seeing him interact with others of equal rank, actually joking around and stuff. Still, my favorite stories were those in which he was in command, so I guess I still like him best in that capacity.