Monday, April 16, 2007
Rafael Sabatini 1875-1950
After trudging through the coma-inducing The Idiot I was hoping for something with a little better pacing and a little more action. Luckily I picked Captain Blood and I got action in droves. This is the prototypical pirate story. It's full of sailing, sea battles, shifting allegiances, a beautiful woman, and a pirate captain with a heart of gold.
Peter Blood MD was tending his geraniums when a group of revolutionaries try to overthrow King James, around 1660. Blood sees their actions as a waste of time, but answers when called to treat a wounded rebel. This generous act leads to his enslavement and deportation to Barbados. He is bought by the vile Col. Bishop, but enjoys more freedom than the other slaves because of his medical knowledge. Bishop's niece is a boyish, frank girl who becomes Blood's guiding hope through all his travails, her name is Arabella. The desperate slaves escape the island when they are attacked by foreign forces. Although the slaves save the city, Col. Bishop is enraged by their escape. Peter Blood becomes Captain Blood, a pirate who harasses the mighty Spanish. The Spanish are traitorous, dishonorable people who routinely break the trust of everyone. Blood is in the habit of making lifelong enemies, England (King James) Bishop, Don Miquel and Lavasseur. He is aligned with everyone, and aligned against everyone at one time of another.
In his adventures Cpt. Blood takes the head of the Spanish fleet, raid the wealthy city of Maricaibo, and is forced to killed the lascivious Lavasseur. Yet, through all the brutal attacks and invasions, he keeps a tight ship. Absent is the raping and pillaging so common with other crews. This is all because of Blood's love and respect for Arabella. But when they meet again Arabella is disgusted with his life as a "pirate and thief," words that stick with Blood and drive him to near ruin. Allegiances continue to shift until a final battle with the French goes down in Barbados. I'll save the ending, but it is dramatic and perfect for this book.
The one qualm I have with Captain Blood is its treatment of Africans. Whether they are house slaves, field hands or pirates, Sabatini portrays them as savages, given no voice and only a faint glimmer of humanity. Otherwise this books is a whirlwind adventure story with a memorably brilliant main character.
Rating 10/10: The most fun book I've read in a long time. Blood is witty, sarcastic, and noble. There are no long boring diatribes into philosophical theory. A great read.