He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.
This is one of the best openers ever in a novel, penned by Rafael Sabatini in one of his greatest works, Scaramouche.
Some background – it old plays, it was common for known character types to be cast in fixed positions. This way, an audience would know that character on sight, and know his personality and characteristics (modern movies and books do this pretty much today, with their lack of creativity). The character “Scaramouche” is the trickster, the fellow who stirs the pot, creates the trouble, then flees. He is known as the fellow who makes the others dance.
This is far from the mind of Andre-Louis Moreau, a bastard son of a country noble, a young lawyer who sneers at the world and wishes no alliance with any part of it. This changes when his friend, protesting a noble’s heavyhanded dealing with poachers, is deemed to have “a dangerous gift of eloquence”. The noble cleverly provokes him into a duel and then, without any effort at all, runs him through.
Moreau is pissed, obviously, and decides to make this noble pay for his crimes. He provokes a street riot, flaming the crowd with his own “dangerous gift of eloquence”. On the run, he joins a crew of performers, easily slipping into the role of Scaramouche for which he is a natural. Then, when that comes apart (when he literally brings the theater down denouncing the noble he is questing against), he is forced to seek wages in Paris, for which he becomes a fencing master. His skills grow incredible (don’t worry – there is sound reasoning behind this – not just a conveniant skill). And after that, for reasons too delightful to spoil, the young republicans of the time pull him into politics. And in every new position, he is the true Scaramouche, manipulating, scheming, and upsetting. And killing.
This book is great – no shit, it’s Sabatini. But it’s a magnificent twisting tale that one sees reflected in more modern tales (read this and see if you don’t see what Star Wars lifted from it). It’s got all the Sabatini hallmarks, wonderful cutting dialog and windy star-crossed love-chatter. It’s worth a read. And if it’s pirates you like, check out his other monster hit, Captain Blood, not reviewed here, not yet, but soon.
(Note – both Scaramouche and Captain Blood are available on Project Gutenberg!)