Forester wrote over a dozen nautical works. But the Horatio Hornblower novels were his only series.
The first novel Forester wrote about Hornblower was published under the somewhat ironic title The Happy Return. And took place in the Pacific Ocean, complicated by Spain switching from being allied to Napoleon Bonaparte's France, to being an ally of the United Kingdom.
The next four novels: A Ship of the Line; Flying Colours; Commodore Hornblower; and Lord Hornblower, were written chronologically. Lord Hornblower ends with Hornblower learning that Bonaparte has had his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. An additional five novels were written out of order: Mr Midshipman Hornblower; Lieutenant Hornblower; Hornblower and the Crisis; Hornblower and the Hotspur; Hornblower and the Atropos; and Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies.
Mr Midshipman Hornblower is set during the mid 1790s. Much of this novel takes place while Hornblower serves in the large frigate HMS Resolution, a real vessel, under Captain Sir Edward Pellew a real officer with a very distinguished career.
Lieutenant Hornblower is set in the West Indies, in 1801, and in Portsmouth, in 1803, and ends with Hornblower being promoted to Commander, and given command of one of the first ship-sloops to be mobilized as the Peace of Amiens broke down. This is the novel where he meets William Bush, who is to become his second in command of every vessel he commanded, except the HMS Atropos.
Hornblower and the Hotspur is set off the coast of Brittany in 1803, 1804 and 1805. Hornblower's vessel the small ship-sloop HMS Hotspur is part of the force blockading the port of Brest, France's main naval port. Hornblower again serves under his old mentor Sir Edward Pellew, commander of the Inshore Squadron, and indirectly, under Sir William Cornwallis, Commander of the Channel Fleet. The novel ends with Hornblower's promotion to Post Captain.
Hornblower and the Crisis is the last novel Forester started, and was unfinished when he died. It was published in incomplete form, with three short stories about Hornblower.
Hornblower and the Atropos is set in 1805. It starts with Hornblower, his wife and young son traveling, by barge, to take up command of HMS Atropos, a 22 gun ship-sloop and sixth rate, in London. When he arrives in London he is assigned the task of managing the fleet of funeral barges that will take the body of Horatio Nelson from Greenwich to Westminster. Following this he is assigned a secret mission to take a salvage expert from the East India Company and his team of Sinhalese divers to salvage bullion from a sunken vessel.
The Happy Return, also published as Beat to Quarters in the United States takes place in 1809, in the Pacific. This novel introduces Lady Barbara Wellesley, the (fictional) youngest sibling of Richard Wellesley, the Earl of Mornington, and Sir Arthur Wellesley.
A Ship of the Line is set in 1810. He is posted to command the 74 gun third rate Ship of the Line HMS Sutherland, serving under the command of Sir Arthur Leighton. Hornblower is the most junior Captain in a squadron that is cruise in the Eastern Mediterranean. Hornbl The novel ends with Hornblower sacrificing his ship, while crippling many ships in a French squadron, allowing the rest of his squadron to catch up and fully destroy the French squadron. The French squadron is destroyed, but his crew suffers many casualties, including his First Lieutenant William Bush, who loses a leg.
Flying Colours is set in 1810 and 1811. Hornblower, Bush and his coxswain Brown are to be sent by Coach to face a Kangaroo Court in Paris. They escape, and steal a boat, and eventually are befriended by a gracious French land-owner and the widow of one of his sons. When Bush is sufficiently recovered, they pretend to be French officers, proceed to the mouth of the Loire, where they free some English prisoners of war, and commandeer a capture British cutter, HMS Witch of Endor. When he returns to Britain he learns that both Leighton is dead, and so is his first wife. Lady Barbara has taken his infant son Richard under her care.
Commodore Hornblower is set in 1812. Hornblower has been knighted, and has married Lady Barbara. He is financially comfortable for the first time, and has purchased a country estate. Hornblower's new brother-in-law Richard Wellesley, the Earl of Mornington, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, assign Hornblower a small squadron, which plays a key role in bringing Russia in as an ally of Britain. Hornblower meets the Czar and Carl von Clausewitz, and plays a key role in the Seige of Riga.
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies is set