Ciel preserve us! What a ride- up, down, and all around! This is one of Sabatini’s first books and one he said he never wanted any one to read. Disregarding such wishes, I read it anyway.
This is going to be a bit different than how I normally write reviews so bear with me. I decided to do a book summary instead of the plot, and my thoughts on it rather than point by point what I liked/disliked. Brief summary:
In a time of serfs, lords, honour, kings, guillotines, and duels, a discovery is made. The discovery that all men are created equal. Unfortunately the effects of such lead inevitably to the bloodshed of guilty and innocent alike through the unlikely name of the French Revolution.
Focusing in on one young man, Caron La’Boulaye, the serf of Marquis de Bellecour, we come to find one of the reasons for a revolution. When La’Boulaye, secretary to M. Bellecour, expresses his love for Mlle. Suzanne de Bellecour he is scorned by her and threatened by her father, thus losing his place as secretary. Later that same day he tries to save a young woman from shame by M. Bellecour. However, the rescue is futile, resulting only in his own death…….or so de Bellecour thought.
Surviving his punishment, La’Boulaye escapes to join Robespierre in building the Republic ( this is where I want to add ‘..and after a long train of abuses..’).
Throughout the next four years we hear nothing of La’Boulaye till suddenly he appears again to avenge himself of Bellecour. His revenge is staved off by Suzanne, who intervenes to save her family.
Weeks later he finds Suzanne and her mother prisoners in the hand of Capitaine Tardivet (husband to the woman shamed by Bellecour). When La’Boulaye sees Tardivet’s intentions concerning Suzanne he contrives an escape for her and her mother. She promises to wait for him at a hotel, claiming that she loved him and would be his wife. At the hotel he finds that she has already left- and that, in the direction opposite of that he had advised. Riding hard he catches up to the berline only to be repelled by Suzanne with the information that she is already betrothed to another. Using her gun, she successfully knocks La’Boulay out and escapes.
Angered at having been thus deceived, La’Boulaye captures Suzanne’s betrothed, Anitole de Ombreville (mainly because Robespierre ordered his arrest). Deciding to kill two birds with one stone (sorry, PETA), he sends a ransom note to Suzanne.
When she arrives at his office he makes his demand, that she honor her promise to him for Ombreville’s life. Ombreville, by the way, is selfish and annoying to the utmost degree. She counters this by saying that, if La’Boulaye truly loved her he would give her the happiness she desired- Ombreville. Acknowledging the truth in her statement, La’Boulaye promises her Ombreville’s life, on his honour. But Robespierre will not grant him Ombreville’s life, having a score to settle with him himself.
Adopting less than scrupulous methods, La’Boulaye frees Ombreville, delivering him to Suzanne.
Upon La’Boulaye’s return to his quarters he is arrested and tried for betrayal. He is given a choice: death by guillotine or amnesty if he gives up Ombreville. Stolidly he chooses death (making this choice with only two pages left in the book, talk about a heart attack!).
As the sentenced are led to the guillotine, Robespierre is there. He stops La’Boulaye to tell him his life has been saved by a woman. Suzanne had betrayed her betrothed to Robespierre. And so ends the book, with La’Boulaye looked down upon as a traitor, his career affectively destroyed, and a woman who can’t be trusted.
As Sabatini goes, this book was quite gripping, though less legato and more staccato than it should be. His chapter titles are positively scrumptious.
This seems almost a precursor to Scaramouche. What it lacked in wit it made up for in adventure. The one trademark Sabatini action it was missing was a swordfight.
While this was much more of a romance than normal (normal for then, not now), I still found it intriguing. Possibly because of the almost villain-like woman (only Milady surpassed her).
It did contain well structured thoughts and good humour to boot. Though, once more, Sabatini liberally salted the pages with vituperative expletives. And, one thing that truly shocked me, a kiss. Sabatini has never included kissing in any other book so I was quite at a loss. I guess he figured later on in years that such gushyness belongs to movies, not books.
All in all, I’d say this book would get about 3 books from me. The kissing, bad words, and the over the top lust for vengeance (yes, even I have limits 😉 ) just didn’t sit well with me. The only reason I give it more than one is because of the adventure and style of writing. I wouldn’t really recommend this to anyone. But if, after all this, you do decide to read it, I want you to know that I left plenty of surprises out of the summary so the book is not utterly spoiled.
If you want a good French Revolution book, stick with Scaramouche or A Tale of Two Cities.