Lionel's Reviews > Captain Blood

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
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Jan 02, 11

bookshelves: adventure, fiction, historical, nautical-fiction, swashbuckler
Read from November 03, 2010 to January 01, 2011

Rafael Sabatini was an Italian ex-pat who settled in England near the turn of the century and eventually made a name for himself as a writer of classical romances (historical adventures, what we today would call swashbucklers). Most of what I've read of his ranges from good to mediocre, but he has two masterpieces of the form, which are Scaramouche and Captain Blood.

Captain Blood (1922) concerns the life of Peter Blood, a former soldier of fortune who had retired to the English countryside to practice medicine, the trade for which he had been educated. In the aftermath of a failed rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth against King James (in which Blood did not participate), Blood is called upon to treat the wounds of a nobleman who was on the wrong side of the rebellion. While doing so, he is rounded up by the king's soldiers, and is condemned to a life of slavery for giving succor to a rebel. He is sent to Barbados, where he meets both his nemesis--Col Bishop, the harsh plantation owner who purchases him--and the woman whose love he ultimately comes to desire--the Colonel's niece.

The opening act concerns itself with this setup, and with Blood's efforts to lead an escape from his slavery. Blood then begins a career as an uncommissioned privateer, wreaking havoc amongst Spanish colonies and ships throughout the Caribbean. There are several excellent set-pieces during which Blood shows not only his skill as a fighter and captain, but also his wits and quick thinking. The combination of brawn, brain and wit are winning, making Blood a very memorable character. Eventually, of course, circumstances bring Blood and Miss Bishop back together again, and mutual misunderstandings keep them apart for a while in order to draw out the romantic suspense (and provide more opportunities for daring escapes).

A long time favorite (I was introduced to the book by way of Philip José Farmer; Blood is one of the members of his original Wold-Newton family tree), I have read this several times over the years and consider this one of my favorite sea-based swashbucklers. The movie (1935), with Errol Flynn in his screen debut as Blood and Olivia de Haviland as Arabella Bishop, is also recommended, though it leaves out some of the best set pieces in the interests of keeping a manageable running time.
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