One author of great reads that I share with my grandfather is Rafael Sabatini. Grandpa had a bunch of his works and I read them all. This guy knows how to write a book.
You do have to skim a bit when the heroine is being purer than pure or the hero is being truer than true. I once contemplated writing a work of criticism entitled “Heads of Finest Bone: The Heroines of Rafael Sabatini”.
That’s because in a lot of these books the heroine gets the wrong idea about the hero and it takes exhaustive, needless effort to bring her around.
But Sabatini is able to capture my imagination with his ingenious plots and although I have no way of knowing — it’s hard to tell with historical novels — I think he has a love of history and a true wish to portray historical situations as accurately as he can.
Captain Blood is his signature work — made into the swashbuckler with Errol Flynn. Captain Blood is not a mean guy. That’s just his name. He’s Dr. Peter Blood, actually, and he likes gardening. He gets sentenced to a penal colony for treating wounded men after a battle in the English Civil War because some of the men were designated as enemies.
Dr. Blood has the last laugh on the judge who sentences him to penal servitude. He looks him in the eye and tells him he’s going to have a stroke within a year and he does.
So to make a long story short he becomes Captain Blood — kind of like the Dread Pirate Roberts in the movie “Princess Bride”.
And Sabatini has lots of other great books. In one of them, I can’t remember which one, the heroine is about to be ravished by the insidious villain who has actually employed her old boyfriend to abduct her and bring her into his clutches.
Since she has been betrayed by the one who ought to have been her protector, it’s up to Sabatini, the author, to rescue her in a highly ingenious fashion.
The non-hero old boyfriend has slunk off to the alehouse, having done his dirty deed, and the villain, alone with the heroine in his townhouse grabs her and prepares to plant a kiss upon her neck when he sees…
The tokens! Those telltale little red rings with a sore in the middle that mean you have… The Plague!
You know the song “Ring Around the Rosy”? It’s about the tokens. “Pocket full of posies” — that’s to mask the smell. “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” You get the picture.
Admittedly the plague is not a good thing, but if it protects a woman’s chastity… That was a heck of a lot more important in Sabatini’s day. Besides, you know the butthead boyfriend is going to nurse her back to health.