ScaramoucheMarch 5, 2007
Like L.T. Meade, Rafael Sabatini is an old favorite of mine. Compared to her, he didn’t write that much — only about forty books. But that’s plenty, and anyway, he was a better writer. He also wrote a few history books, and was very careful about the history in his novels. I’ve read his book on Torquemada, and for a book on the Spanish Inquisition, it’s a pretty good read.
At their best, Sabatini’s books are full of snarky gentleman heroes, beautiful, boyish, ridiculously gullible girls, and lots of swashbuckling. And Scaramouche is definitely one of his best. It was also the first Sabatini I read, after coming across a reference to it in Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas. Scaramouche was Sabatini’s first big success, and is usually considered one of his two best books. Personally, I prefer Captain Blood, which is the other, but Scaramouche is pretty fantastic, too.
“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony.”
Those are the opening lines, and they describe Andre-Louis Moreau, a country lawyer who is generally assumed to be the natural son of his patron, M. de Kercadiou. One day, his friend Philippe gets killed in an obviously unfair duel with M. de la Tour d’Azyr, another local nobleman, and the desire to get revenge on Philippe’s murderer sets him off on a journey covering six professions and large parts of France.
In rapid succession, Andre-Louis becomes an orator, an actor, a playwright, a fencing-master, and a politician. He’s terrific at all of these things, but not in a way that will make you want to cringe. Andre-Louis is clever and humorous and sarcastic, but he’s also kind of sweet. Sabatini’s heros are always ridiculously chivalrous; they really believe that women are pure and innocent and deserving of protection. It’s kind of adorable.