I cannot wait to start the second of the series.
As other readers have indicated, this book is not the first written. However it is the first in chronological order of Hornblower himself.
All that said, this was a really good book. The first night, I read over 100 pages without stopping. It's really not a flowing story as much as a collection of short stories about the life of a particular midshipman in 1794.
He is first stationed on a Line of Battle ship. CS doesn't really describe the ship much, but by what the surroundings seem to be like and the number of officers, I'd say she is a two decker of 74 guns or so. On this ship his life is one of misery until he gets a fair shake from the captain.
On he goes to a frigate and the real adventures begin. Enough said, I don't like to tell the story. You can read it.
This is a good book. Easy to read. Each chapter is 20 - 30 pages and tells an entire short story. They are unconnected stories(other than the characters and the ship).... They can be read individally.
I look forward to finishing the entire series. I too have the companion book. This is a good tool to help the reader keep up with the actual locations of the stories and some of the history surrounding this period in time.