Posts Tagged ‘historical’

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Captain Blood Day: The Romantic Prince

September 19, 2013

So, Captain Blood Day. Yay!

Actually, though, I completely forgot about it until last week, so instead of thinking seriously about which Sabatini book I might want to talk about next, I just grabbed The Romantic Prince off my bookshelf. I read it once before — whenever Batman Begins came out, if the ticket stub I was using as a bookmark is any indication — and I recalled being pretty pleased with it.

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time reading Redeeming Qualities, you’ll know that I’m kind of fascinated by the way novelists solve problems. In particular, there’s a thing you get a lot in romance and adventure novels, where the hero is situated in such a way that it would be dishonorable for him to take any action whatsoever to resolve whatever issue he’s having. And often, as it is here, the issue is mostly just that the hero can’t be with the heroine. And sure, I love the resultant pining, but I also love watching the author’s resultant struggle to steer the characters to a happy ending without in any way impugning their honor. That’s Rafael Sabatini’s principal task in The Romantic Prince, so obviously it’s a lot of fun to me. It doesn’t hurt that the actual barriers keeping Count Anthony of Guelders and Johanna Claessens apart are strong enough that Sabatini doesn’t have to resort to the completely avoidable misunderstandings he seems to like so much. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Fool’s Love Story

October 4, 2012

You know how sometimes your daily life saps your will to do anything you’re not actually required to do? So, yeah. That. But I wanted to drop by to talk about “The Fool’s Love Story”, which I read on the tail end of the Sabatini kick that started with my reread of Bardelys the Magnificent.

It looks like The Fool’s Love Story might have been Sabatini’s first published story — it’s the first listed on the uncollected stories list on rafaelsabatini.com, and…it reads young. It’s about a Hofknarr, or court jester, in a small German kingdom in the mid-17th century. He’s in love with a young woman who’s engaged to an unworthy Frenchman, and it doesn’t end too well for anybody, really, unless you count the fact that I was completely delighted by it. Which was why I wanted to say something about it, but probably not in the way you think.

This is the thing: this story is pretty terrible. The plot is ridiculous, the writing is more than ridiculous, and you’re sort of plopped down in the middle of a fully formed emotional situation that never really changes. Also, dying heroically and tragically tends to go over a little better if there’s a point to it. But it’s Sabatini, who pretty much always gets me where I live, and I was totally sold by the time I hit “lean, sardonic countenance,” halfway through the first sentence.

Basically, I suspect this is one for the Sabatini devotees — and I’d be interested to know if I’m right.

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Captain Blood Day: Bardelys the Magnificent

September 19, 2012

Happy Captain Blood Day, everyone! You can observe this holiday by reading adventure novels, trading witty barbs with people trying to unjustly sentence you to death, or, okay, talking like a pirate. But only if the pirate is Peter Blood.

I felt bad posting a negative review of a Sabatini book on Captain Blood Day last year, so this year I made sure to choose a book I know I like. And actually Bardelys the Magnificent is super appropriate as a follow up to The Suitors of Yvonne. It’s not just that it’s full of French courtiers for whom dueling is always a viable problem-solving tool — Bardelys the Magnificent came out four years after The Suitors of Yvonne and it frequently reads like Sabatini’s (successful) attempt to reshape that book into something, you know, good.

The bottom line is that sometime between 1902 and 1906, Rafael Sabatini acquired a knack for writing likable main characters, and I have yet to come across a later instance where it failed him. So there’s Gaston de Luynes, who is massively hateful, and then in between there’s the guy from The Tavern Knight, who’s just kind of irritating, and then there’s Bardelys, who’s got really poor judgment and terrible timing, but who I like quite a lot. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Captain Blood Day: The Suitors of Yvonne

September 19, 2011

I hate to do this. I can’t believe I’m doing this. Here, for Captain Blood Day, is a bad review of a Rafael Sabatini book. But, given the book itself. I couldn’t very well have written a good one. And it’s not like I uncritically love all of Sabatini’s other books. This one is his first novel, The Suitors of Yvonne, and while I probably wouldn’t have been sure it was by Sabatini if his name wasn’t in the title page (and if, you know, I hadn’t known for years that his first novel was called The Suitors of Yvonne) you can sort of see hints of what he’s going to be like later.

For instance, Sabatini’s heroes are almays saying really cleverly insulting things to people they don’t like. And because they’re so cool and self-posessed and have such clever senses of humor and we know they’re all romantic and sensitive on the inside — and because their enemies are usually warped caricatures of human beings — it’s fun.

Gaston de Luynes, hero of The Suitors of Yvonne, is not like that. He is, in fact, kind of an asshole. I mean, he’s got the insulting part down, but not the clever part, and certainly not the sensitive part. Mostly, he’s just offensive. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Doctor Syn

June 7, 2011

It doesn’t make sense for the early 19th century Kentish town of Dymchurch to have smugglers. It’s got the wrong sort of coastline. What it has got is a well-liked baronet, a pious but down-to-earth vicar given to singing pirate songs and possibly some demons who frolic in the Romney Marsh at night. And maybe smugglers too. That’s what Captain Collyer and his men have come to find out, anyway.

The book goes back and forth between the townspeople and the sailors, and you’re never pushed to choose a side. Nobody is completely likable, except for one fairly minor character who appears late in the book, and the closest thing we get to a protagonist is a rum-drinking twelve year old whose ambition in life is to become a hangman. Doctor Syn, the vicar, is appealing, but seems increasingly dangerous as the book goes on.

I thought the twist was fairly obvious from the beginning, but I expected Russell Thorndyke to take it in a different, lighter direction. Instead, much of the book is sort of chilling. It’s good, though. I kept forming new expectations as I read, and Thorndyke kept surprising me.

Doctor Syn is kind of a weird book. It starts out pretty lighthearted and gets much darker, but that implies a steadier, clearer kind of change than I felt. It’s all over the place. Sometimes you’re hearing from the townspeople, and sometimes you’re hearing from the sailors, and it’s never really clear if you’re supposed to be on anyone’s side.

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The Gauntlet

June 4, 2011

I while ago Eleanor recommended Ronald Welch’s Carey family series, which follows various Careys as they participate in pretty much every major conflict England’s been involved in in the last thousand years. We have similar taste in historical adventure novels, so I had pretty high hopes for Welch, and Knight Crusader, the first Carey book, was enormously fun — both bloodier and more educational than I expected. But the next Welch book in the New York Public Library’s collection takes place several hundred years later, and I get kind of weird about reading series in order, so now I’m just hoping to randomly stumble across the next book somewhere.

But the NYPL also had another Welch book, written shortly before Knight Crusader. It’s called The Gauntlet, and it’s a timeslip novel in which a young boy spending a vacation in Wales picks up a metal gauntlet and finds himself in the middle ages, where he is taken for the son of the local Norman family. It’s even more intensely educational than Knight Crusader, but that’s sort of what timeslip novels are for most of the time: you get to listen in on the protagonist getting everything explained to them.  And Welch knows his stuff, as far as I can tell.

It’s sort of exactly what you would expect of a children’s historical novel written in the fifties, and I mean that in a good way. It’s not the most emotionally engaging book, but it doesn’t need to be. And Welch is one of those writers who knows how to give you as much revenge as you want without giving you so much that you wish you hadn’t wanted it in the first place, although that might be a matter of opinion. I’m not sure how my thirst for revenge on fictional characters stacks up against other people’s.

Anyway, a pretty good book.

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Top 10 Underappreciated Children’s Books 2/3

May 17, 2011

Here’s part two. You may notice that the formatting is unbelieveably horrible. I tried to fix it, but I’ve given up now.

Part 1/3

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