Hornblower and the Atropos details the adventures of Horatio Hornblower in his first assignment as a post-captain in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.
Prior to assuming command of his ship, HMS Atropos, Hornblower is first entrusted with a highly unusual job: organising the funeral of Admiral Horatio Nelson. The barge bearing the coffin springs a leak and nearly sinks in the River Thames, but other than that, the procession proceeds without trouble.
Afterward, he is presented to the King and introduced to his new midshipman: the Prince of Seitz-Bunau, the King's great-nephew, and in exile after Napoleon had conquered his small German principality.
Hornblower's mission is also rather out of the ordinary. He is to pick up three Sinhalese divers and their crusty interpreter and employ them to secretly salvage the cargo of a ship that sank in Turkish waters. The ship was carrying the payroll for the British Army when it foundered. After recovering most of the treasure, Hornblower discovers that the operation wasn't so secret after all when a much more powerful Turkish ship appears. However, by skillful (and highly dangerous) maneuvering, Hornblower manages to escape the trap.
After a sharp, but ultimately victorious, encounter with a Spanish ship, Hornblower has to make repairs in the Two Sicilies. There, the ship catches the eye of the King of the Two Sicilies, and the British ambassador decides to give the Atropos to him to keep his support in the fight against Napoleon. Hornblower returns home to England, where he finds that his two children are dying of smallpox.
Best part of story, including ending:
It contains more unusual adventures than the average Hornblower story (and that takes some doing).
Best scene in story:
"Mr. Prince" (as Hornblower calls his midshipman) falls into the sea while skylarking as they are being pursued by an enemy ship. Hornblower has to turn about and bluff the enemy into retreating by signalling to non-existent reinforcements just over the horizon in order to rescue the boy. Afterward, Hornblower sees to it that the boy can't sit on his royal posterior without some pain.
Opinion about the main character:
Hornblower is ever resourceful and quick-witted.