The Hornblower Set 2: Captain Hornblower

Hornblower and the Atropos, The Happy Return, A Ship of the Line, Flying Colours

C. S. Forester

Illustrated by Joe McLaren

Introduced by Bernard Cornwell

Hornblower is one of the greatest naval adventurers in literature and he is back with heroic battles, stoic command and illicit liaisons in a stunning new four-book Folio set that includes reproductions of Forester’s original maps.


Nelson’s funeral, a war ship commission, aiding the odious el Supremo in the Spanish revolt and being taken prisoner by the French – this new series of four volumes of C. S. Forester’s tales sees Horatio Hornblower engage in furious battles and acts of diplomacy across the globe. Originally written as stand-alone tales, this new collection brings all the novels and stories together in chronological order, the better to follow the burgeoning naval career of Forester’s affable protagonist during the Napoleonic Wars. This is the real Horatio Hornblower – the naval captain who inspired a film and television series – presented exactly as Forester intended you to meet him. Illustrator Joe McLaren returns with his evocative black-and-white series illustrations and naval-inspired binding designs in this highly desirable collection that also includes meticulous reproductions of Forester’s maps: fascinating visual depictions of Hornblower’s voyages.

‘Vastly entertaining ... I find Hornblower admirable’

  1. Winston Churchill

Production details

Three-quarter bound in cloth with a printed and blocked cloth front board

Set in Bulmer

1072 pages in total

20 full-page black & white integrated illustrations and 4 chapter heads

12 maps across four volumes

Printed endpapers

Printed and blocked slipcase

9˝ x 5¾˝

A fascinating backstory

When we catch up with the captain at the start of Hornblower and the Atropos he is navigating the Cotswolds canals towards London, his wife and small son in tow. The purpose of the journey is two-fold: Nelson’s funeral is imminent and it’s time for Hornblower to take up a new commission on the 22-gun warship Atropos. Although written later in Forester’s life, this is actually the fourth chronological book in the whole Hornblower series.

‘“I have been thinking about my duty,” he said to her, “to the exclusion of the other things I should have thought about. Can you forgive me, dearest?”’

The charming insight into Hornblower’s personal life encapsulates Forester’s appeal. Far removed from the impeccable and dashing military protagonists of other naval literature, Hornblower is physically and professionally flawed but is no less the hero. We see him fussing over food and engaging in light hearted banter with his wife Maria before reverting to the endearment that is obviously the ballast of their relationship. It is perhaps a reflection of Forester’s own eventful life that he was drawn to create a character who makes mistakes, but puts them behind him and soldiers on.

Far-flung adventures

The saga continues with the novel that Forester wrote first – the story that catapulted Hornblower into the public sphere and grabbed the attention of filmmakers (The Happy Return became Captain Horatio Hornblower, starring Gregory Peck). Finding himself off the coast of South America, Hornblower is tasked with aiding a revolt against Spanish rule, the story propelled by the naval wars taking place at the time. Although each adventure is absorbing, it is Forester’s attention to detail that has ensured the longevity of the tales. This extends to the illustrations in the Folio saga: Brian Lavery, former curator of maritime history at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, was consulted on the detail of naval costume and shipcraft to ensure absolute historical accuracy.

Award-winning writing

The final two books, A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours, together won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 1938, and Forester’s work remains widely read and appreciated, not only for its naval relevance but also as exhilarating historical fiction. Introducer Bernard Cornwell knows more than most about Forester’s vast sphere of influence – his own Sharpe series was inspired by Hornblower’s adventures. His introductions to each volume provide all the background required for the books to be read independently or as thrilling instalments in a long-running naval saga.

Unique to the Folio sets and painstakingly redrawn from Forester’s originals, the 12 accompanying scaled maps detail Hornblower’s many sea and river operations, as well as his journeys overland. Joe McLaren has produced 20 illustrations across the four titles; his intricate black-and-white etchings capture the drama, adventure and nautical detail of the tales, from raging storms and fatal battles to everyday life aboard ship.


Cecil Scott Forester was born in Cairo in 1899 to British parents. He studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London but, after leaving without a degree, he turned to writing. His first novel, Payment Deferred, was published in 1926. During the Second World War he worked for the British government writing propaganda to foster American support for Britain’s war effort, a post that took him to California, where he lived until his death in 1966. The author of more than 50 novels, Forester is best remembered for his series of 12 books and several short stories about Horatio Hornblower, an officer in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.


Bernard Cornwell, OBE, is a British author of historical novels. He studied at London University before joining the BBC, where he became the head of current affairs television in Northern Ireland. In 1979 he moved to the United States and pursued a writing career. Cornwell is best known for his ’Sharpe’ series (1981–2007), which traces the career of Richard Sharpe in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars – a series directly inspired by C. S. Forester’s ’Hornblower’ novels. His other fiction titles include The Starbuck Chronicles (1993–6), The Warlord Chronicles (1995–7), The Grail Quest Series (2000–12), The Last Kingdom books (2004– ), Azincourt (2008) and Fools and Mortals (2017).


Joe McLaren graduated with a BA in Illustration from the University of Brighton in 2003. He has worked for many book publishers, including Penguin, Orion and HarperCollins, contributing illustrations for titles such as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. His work for The Folio Society includes artwork for titles by Anthony Burgess, William Cobbett and a host of historical writers, as well as the Hornblower Saga. He is also known for his editorial work in The Times and WIRED magazine, among others. McLaren most often uses scraperboard to create his images, a late 19th-century invention prized for its deep contrast and distinctive texture.


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