Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies - C.S. Forester
This book (the latest, according to internal chronology, of the Hornblower novels) makes a change from the focus on the Napoleonic wars so typical of British naval fiction. It takes place between 1821 and 1823, and although one of its five nearly self-contained sections features a band of fanatical Bonapartists convinced that the Empire can still be revived, in the rest Hornblower is largely concerned with maneuvering through Britain's delicate non-hostile relations with Spain and the US. Potential source of conflict is Britain's intention to suppress the slave trade (Spain hadn't abolished slavery yet), and the bid for independence of Spain's new world possessions (Britain had not yet officially recognized their independence but tacitly favored it).

Forester enjoys inserting notes about how life is changing on the brink of the Victorian age: for one thing, Hornblower attends a reception, not in a uniform and cocked hat, but in a black evening coat and top hat (which first became popular in the 1820s). The author hints at the way the Navy is about to change beyond recognition, with wooden ships very soon to be phased out, but Hornblower unsurprisingly doesn't imagine it. At one point, he leads fleet exercises to train young officers to fight a battle in ships-of-the-line, unaware that Britain will never again fight such a battle.

As I noted, this book is divided into five chapters which almost seem to have been written independently of each other. Although the fourth, concerning a rich young British manufacturer who purchases a sold-out-of-the-service warship for hidden reasons, is quite good, I'm afraid I have to express the opinion that the general quality of the writing in this book is slack. Forester overwrites Hornblower's mercurial emotions, having him repeatedly switch from happiness to despair in an exaggerated manner; some phrases are not well chosen; and although there are good plot ideas, they are not sustained in as interesting a manner as Forester ought to be capable of. So, although its setting makes a nice change of pace, I can't wholeheartedly recommend this book.