Let’s get the disclaimer out front – I love Rafael Sabatini. I’ve always enjoyed everything he’s written.
And now let’s talk about the Marquis of Carabas, which is in itself a will-o-wisp literary term for a fictional Count – it’s appeared in Puss and Boots and in a handful of other places. It means “Marquis of Nowhere”.
Most fitting for this young London fencing master, son of a Frenchwoman recently passed away who learns that he is actually a Count, that he owns extensive holdings in France, that he’s a rich nobleman. The trouble with this is that the guillotine has been lopping off heads of people such as himself back home, that the land is now owned by the state and that he might not get his due. Worse, his cousins (a pair of deadly chuckleheads and, of course, a beautiful distant (distant enough to marry) one) oppose him (well, not her – she finds him very exciting). So over to France he goes with a shaky safe passage arranged by the Republicans in power. Yet what is safety in a topsy-tervy place like post-revolutionary France?
It is then he discovers the deadly game he is playing in his attempt to recover his birthright. Only his skill as a swordsman (and his equally flashing wits) keep him safe. Yet the kin continue to maneuver against him, their sister continues to be alluring, and the army (lead by a stable-boy turned general) tussles with an army of outlaws and woodsmen to the west, backed by the nobles who have fled yet returned (and, indirectly, the crown-concerned English). Eventually our hero Quentin finds himself drawn to the battlefield, where the two forces, Republican and Royalist, battle for the future of the country.
What really draws me to Sabatini are his characters and their dialogs. True, occasionally his villains and incompetents serve as straw men for his dashingly urbane heroes, and that’s fine – nice to see that in my world of “should have said that”, someone does. Even casual exchanges, such as when one of his cousins barge into a room…
“You’ll forgive the intrusion, Monsieur de Morlaix.”
Not readily,” replied Quentin, cool and haughty.
Love it. It’s like Pride and Prejudice with gunpowder and flashing blades. Certainly if you’ve not read Sabatini, think about cracking open on of his more famous works, Captain Blood or Scaramouche, And if you are a veteran reader, or one who’d like to learn a touch of history rather forgotten, have a look between the covers of this fine work.