April 1803. The Peace of Amiens is breaking down. Napoleon is building ships and amassing an army just across the Channel. Horatio Hornblower who, at age twenty seven, has already distinguished himself as one of the most daring and resourceful officers in the Royal Navy commands the three masted Hotspur on a dangerous reconnaissance mission that evolves, as war breaks out, into a series of spectacular confrontations. All the while, the introspective young commander struggles to understand his new bride and mother in law, his officers and crew, and his own 'accursed unhappy temperament' matters that trouble him more, perhaps, than any of Bonaparte's cannonballs.