Hornblower and the Atropos
Hornblower and the Atropos is a novel in the series, by C.S. Forester, about a fictitious Royal Navy around the turn of the 19th century, Horatio Hornblower. Hornblower is a young but talented officer, without the family and friends in high places that, at the time, were often required for advancement. At the end of the previous book, Hornblower and the Hotspur, special circumstances allowed him to be promoted, purely for the benefit of the Navy, from commander to the most junior form of captain (naval), for the man "who a month ago was the six hundred and first captain of the six hundred ad two on the list".
To command we travel
The book opens as he journeys to take on his new ship, HMS Atropos (22), a sloop of war just large enough to justify a captain; sloops, such as the HMS Hotspur, were usually given to commanders. The journey features high technology for the day: the new Thames and Severn Canal between Gloucester and London. Even before he reaches the ship, events on the canal boat demonstrate his adaptability and decisiveness, as well as his managing his marriage — somewhat unhappy from his side, but that he would never let his wife Maria know. Hornblower's ability to understand new techniques, such as the nuances of canal boat handling, is evident throughout the series.
On arriving at his ship and going through the ceremonial process of taking command, his first lieutenant, an undistinguished officer designated John Jones the Ninth to differentiate him from the other eight Lieutenants John Jones in service, gives him sealed orders from the Admiralty. They are totally unexpected: command the naval formation for the state funeral of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, England's greatest naval hero, killed in action at the moment of victory in the Battle of Trafalgar.
Not without difficulty, variously keeping of the ungainly barget carrying The Body (as he called it) from a humiliating sinking, to recovering his irreplaceable watch, he completes the difficult assignment, to the satisfaction of the head of the Royal Navy, Admiral the Right Honorable Earl St. Vincent. The Admiral presents the young officer, describing him as "his protege", to the King.
The King has been in search of a promising young naval officer to take a diplomatic problem from his hands; the Navy needs to send a light vessel to the active Mediterranean Fleet. Hornblower fits the criteria, and is sent back to ready Atropos for duty.