Hornblower and the Hotspur is the third novel (in the internal chronology) of C.S. Forester's series about the intrepid Royal Navy officer.
During peacetime, in 1803, Hornblower marries Maria, the daughter of his landlady, not because he loves her, but because he feels obliged to. To his great relief, Admiral Cornwallis trusts his sailing skills and judgment, and sends him to sea in command of the sloop Hotspur in anticipation of the resumption of the Napoleonic Wars. His assignment is to watch the port of Brest and gather intelligence, never knowing when war will break out and put his ship suddenly in harm's way.
When hostilities do commence without his knowledge, Hornblower barely escapes a much more powerful French frigate. While at sea, he receives news that Maria is pregnant. He devises several plans which achieve much success against the French, both at sea and on land.
Admiral Cornwallis rewards him by assigning him to a squadron sent to take the annual treasure fleet bringing the riches of the New World to as-yet neutral Spain. However, Hornblower spots a French frigate. Disregarding the enormous amount of prize money awarded to all sailors participating in the fleet's capture, he turns aside and harries the frigate so that it can't warn the fleet. (In the end, it is a phantom sacrifice; as Spain was not at war with England at the time, there is no prize money given out.)
When Cornwallis retires, as is customary, he is given the privilege of three promotions: midshipman to lieutenant, lieutenant to commander, and commander to captain. He makes Hornblower a captain, an enormous step.
Best part of story, including ending:
Every Hornblower story is excellent, without exception.
Best scene in story:
This book spends a fair bit of time on various meals aboard ship. An elaborate dinner hosted by Sir Edward Pellew is particularly mouth-watering.
Opinion about the main character:
Despite not loving his wife, Hornblower does feel affection for her.