Captain Blood, by Rafael Sabatini: A Review

Captain Blood, by Rafael Sabatini (Penguin Books, 2003)

Captain Blood, by Rafael Sabatini (Penguin Books, 2003)

In many ways, as a reader in my middle years, I am still trying to redress an injustice from my youth; namely, that there are books which I did not read then, book that I now feel that I should have read long ago. What I was doing with my time, I can’t imagine.

I can only assume that it was for lack of proper guidance that I did not partake of, for example, Rafael Sabatini’s 1922 masterpiece of adventure on the high seas, Captain Blood. If it is not a better-known book today that is only the fault of perfidious history rather than the fault of the work itself.   Sabatini had already penned Scaramouche: A Romance of the French Revolution (yes, that Scaramouche, about whom more later) when Captain Blood flowed from his pen the following year. Having travelled a century further back in time, Sabatini set the story of Peter Blood, physician, soldier, and wrongly convicted gentleman against the backdrop of the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion. For that matter, the author drops the character of Peter Blood into the clutches of the notorious Judge Jeffreys, and the latter condemns him to death, which is commuted to transportation and servitude (i.e.; slavery), a sentence from which Blood struggles mightily to escape.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Dr. Peter Blood is a former soldier and physician living in the Somerset town of Bridgewater. Called to attend a patient who is found to be a member of the Earl of Monmouth’s forces fighting against King James II, he is taken into custody and tried for treason, on the basis that he aided an enemy of the crown. Blood and other rebels are sentenced to death, but transported instead to Barbados and sold into slavery on the plantation of Colonel Bishop. Blood’s skill as a physician is soon recognized, granting him certain freedoms, but he longs to escape his servitude altogether, and begins to plan his escape.

The arrival at the colony of a ship, the Cinco Llagas, crewed by Spaniards intent on looting the English colony, provides Blood and his band of comrades with the opportunity to escape and, having taken the ship (rechristened the Arabella, after Bishop’s daughter, for whom the Captain has fallen), Blood and his crew engage in a campaign of piracy against the Spanish in the Caribbean, but are equally wary of English forces who view them as escaped prisoners. As the Arabella and her crew engage in increasingly daring feats, Blood also seeks justice for the wrongful conviction foisted upon him.

Sabatini went on to write additional stories set within the campaigns outlined in Captain Blood, which should be equally entertaining once tracked down. But this first volume is a great deal of fun, featuring swordplay, naval battles, and quests for treasure, all outlined in a framework of a moral quest to right a wrong. It is interesting that the setting is in roughly the same period (approximately ten years later) as Robinson Crusoe, which I reviewed earlier this week, but whereas Crusoe is an insupportable prig of his day, Peter Blood, also based loosely on contemporary documents, is a much better hero. More in the tradition of stories by the great Robert Louis Stevenson, Captain Blood is a novel which skillfully blends history and historical fantasy, to make a bewitching brew of adventure and fun. I don’t often have time or inclination to read books a second time, but for Captain Blood, I will make an exception, one day in the not too distant future. Five stars. Highly recommended.

Reviewed 28 October 2015.

Find your copy of Captain Blood at AbeBooks.com (title links directly to search results).

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About Bill Bibliomane

Reader and writer, collector and cataloguer. Amateur mineralogist, astronomer, numismatist, philatelist: I have too many hobbies. I'm somewhat compulsive when it comes to book shopping. Fortunately for my budget, there are no bookshops near to my home. Unfortunately, I've discovered the Internet. I started out reviewing books for my own amusement. Now I've decided to assemble them on my own site.
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