Posts Tagged ‘historical’

h1

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 ?

h1

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.

h1

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 ?

h1

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 ?

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

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

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Precious Bane

April 23, 2011

You may have noticed I haven’t been around much lately. I’ve been pretty busy, and I haven’t been doing much other than working, sleeping and eating. That bit’s over now, but somehow the idea of reading a book is still kind of daunting. I’m working on that.

Mary Webb’s Precious Bane was the last book I managed to finish before I got too busy to read, which was, I guess, a few weeks ago. This is the second time I’ve read it. The first time was during my freshman year of college. It kind of bowled me over then, and it bowls me over even more now.

I feel sort of guilty about liking Precious Bane as much as I do, because my favorite book when I was in my early teens was Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, and when she’s not sneaking in weird futuristic bits about glass pants and videophones, Gibbons is making fun of exactly this kind of earthy rural novel. On the other hand, “earthy” sort of implies that something takes place on earth, and it is my private conviction that Precious Bane does not. Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

On the popularity of historical fiction circa 1900

February 23, 2011

“In progressive discourse, faith in impersonal, agentless, evolutionary progress led, as Lears argues, to bourgeois enervation. And yet, restoring the bourgeois subject’s potency meant eliminating progress and thereby rendering the bourgeois subject’s raison d’être null and void. The historical novel of the Progressive era attempts to resolve this deeply felt contradiction by retreating from and advancing into the past at the same time. The popularity of the historical romance in this period can be explained with reference to the painful contradiction that these novels solve, at least for the moment, through the act of reading them.”

Gripp, Paul. “When Knighthood Was Progressive: Progressive Historicism and the Historical Novel.” The Journal of Narrative Technique 27.3 (1997): 297-328.

I’m not sure how much of that I buy, and I’m getting increasingly annoyed by Gripp’s ssues with sentence structure, but I thought the quote was interesting, and worth sharing.

h1

When Knighthood Was in Flower

February 22, 2011

When Knighthood Was in Flower, by Charles Major, was the #9 bestselling book of 1900. On one hand that was a relief, because it would have been horrifying to find that it sold better than To Have and To Hold or Janice Meredith, both of which were, you know, good. On the other hand, it’s worrying to think that this book was a bestseller at all, since it’s kind of terrible. Actually, I can’t think of anything I liked about it. Or, I don’t know, the title is okay, I guess. If by “knighthood” you mean “being fickle and selfish.” And there’s one sort of entertaining bit in which Charles Brandon imagines going to New Spain and pining for Mary Tudor: “I shall find the bearing of Paris, and look in her direction until my brain melts in my effort to see her, and then I shall wander in the woods, a suffering imbecile, feeding on roots and nuts.” I don’t know what kind of success he’d have with the roots and nuts, but believe me, he’s got the suffering imbecile part down. Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Reviews at EP: To Have and to Hold

November 28, 2010

My Edwardian Promenade guest post for November is up: To Have and to Hold, by Mary Johnston. It’s much later than usual, I know,  but it’s practically the only era-appropriate thing I’ve read all month.

h1

Christmas Stories: The Truce of God

December 22, 2009

So, it should come as no surprise that I think Mary Roberts Rinehart is awesome. And part of the reason for that is that she’s always at least a little bit surprising. I had no idea what to expect from The Truce of God, her Christmas story, and I’m not altogether sure what I think of it now, but I’m definitely impressed.

First of all, the Truce of God is a pretty cool thing to write about. During the eleventh century, the European nobility  were referred to as “those who fight” (as opposed to “those who work” and “those who pray”), because basically they spent most of their time fighting private wars against their neighbors (or their overlords’ neighbors). The church dealt with this in a few different ways. One was the Crusades. Another was the Truce of God. Basically, the Church said, “Hey, no one is allowed to fight on weekends anymore. Or Thursdays. Or Lent, etc.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia has a little more detail, if you’re interested (in general, it’s a good basic resource for medieval religious history). Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Janice Meredith

December 11, 2009

Usually I do a little bit of research on a book before I write about it — not much beyond googling the title and author to make sure I haven’t missed anything important. So I took a look at Wikipedia this morning, and while I didn’t learn anything about Janice Meredith that I didn’t already know (bestseller in 1900, made into a silent movie), when I looked up Paul Leicester Ford, I discovered to following: he was murdered in 1902 by his brother Malcolm, a famous athlete, who then shot himself. Nothing to do with the book, I guess, but any chance that I was going to forget who Paul Leicester Ford was is now gone.

Not that I really thought I would forget, because Janice Meredith is pretty good. It’s sort of like Under Two Flags, only set during the American Revolution, and about one fifth as ridiculous.
Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Happy Captain Blood Day!

September 19, 2009

So, September 19th is the day Peter Blood is sentenced to slavery in Barbados — if he’d been tried any sooner, he would have just been sentenced to death, instead of having the opportunity to become the coolest pirate ever. So you should celebrate, preferably by reading — or rereading — some Sabatini. Here are a few suggestions. Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

The First Sir Percy

January 9, 2009

I’m not exactly sure why I chose to read The First Sir Percy, the book following The Laughing Cavalier, but I suspect it had something to do with The First Sir Percy being only abut half as long as its predecessor. Anyway, I’m glad I did.

Diogenes, Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier, is back. He has, since the last book, discovered that his real name is Percy Blakeney, and he also, for no reason except that Baroness Orczy seemed to feel it was necessary, has been knighted. He acts much more like his eponymous descendent now. He pretends to be stupid and cowardly –  as well as blind and drunk — and even starts using some of the same exclamations as Sir Percy. He’s not really Sir Percy, but he reminds one of him, which is a big help. Read the rest of this entry ?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 202 other followers