Rafael Sabatini’s best novels are more fun than a barrel full of pirate-monkeys. He wrote historical novels in a slightly-flowery prose that seems to fit his subject matter perfectly and formed passages that often beg to be read aloud. His dialogue is sharp and trenchant, often serving as much as the action set pieces to increase the level of tension and suspense within his plots.
Sabatini was introduced to American readers in 1921 when Captain Blood (a pirate novel second perhaps only to Treasure Island for its pure entertainment value) was serialized in the pulp magazine Adventure.
Peter Blood was a doctor, who (during his restless years as a young man) had wandered about 17th-Century Europe, fighting in wars and learning the craft of seamanship. When the novel opens, though, he’s settled down in the quiet English town of Bridgewater.
But when he provides medical aid to a rebel, he is branded a traitor and shipped off to the West Indies as a slave. Once there, he eventually plans a mass escape (though not before taking the time to fall in love with Arabella Bishop, the beautiful niece of his owner). He and his fellow ex-slaves get hold of a ship and turn to piracy.
Blood turns out to be really, really good at piracy. Much of the saga now turns to tracing his career as a buccaneer as he eventually builds a small fleet. He plans a raid against the Spanish city of Maracaybo. Trapped inside the harbor by the Spanish fleet, he uses several audacious strategies to fight his way free.
Blood soon becomes involved in some complex political machinations, with various governments trying to recruit his services for various reasons. The story climaxes in a wonderfully described sea battle as Blood attacks two French ships in the harbor of Port Royale. By the time everything (including Blood’s romance with Arabella) is satisfactorily resolved, the reader finds himself jumping back to re-read the final battle because it’s just that good.
Peter Blood may just possibly the best-sounding fictional name ever. Even so, the good doctor manages to live up to the promise of adventure inherent in the rhythm of his name. How he ever thought he could get away with living the quiet life of a country doctor is beyond me. With a name like Peter Blood, you’re pretty much stuck being a pirate.