Captain Blood
Grade : A

The popularity of the historical novel has waxed and waned since Sir Walter Scott invented it when he published Waverly. In 1922, Rafael Sabatini published Captain Blood, the tale of a physician sold into slavery who becomes a pirate. The book was so popular, it spawned several sequels and cemented Sabatini's reputation as a master of the sweeping, romantic historical novel.

Peter Blood, an Irish physician, lives in Somersetshire. As a very young man, he served the French navy and for several years, he was a prisoner of the Spanish. Peter Blood has had his share of excitement and adventure and now wants only to practice his profession, admire his flowers and smoke a pipe. When some of his neighbors join the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion against King James, Blood stays away from the conflict, but finds himself drawn into it when some of his rebel neighbors are wounded.

When Blood is found treating the wounded, he is arrested as a traitor and brought to trial before Judge Jeffries at the Bloody Assizes. Found guilty, the court sentences him to hang, but his sentence is commuted when representatives of the English planters in Barbados petition the Crown to send them slaves to work their plantations. Blood and his companions are shipped overseas to be sold as slaves.

Blood is bought by Colonel Bishop, whose niece Arabella has taken a shine to him. Bishop is a cruel and heartless man who takes a strong dislike to Blood and more than likely, would have found cause to flog him to death. However, the governor of the island suffers from gout and his wife suffers from megrims, and only Blood can bring them relief. As the governor’s private physician, Blood has freedom to move about and during the course of his days, he is able to talk to Arabella. She is a level-headed, almost boyish young woman and Blood soon falls in love with her.

The life of a slave, even a privileged slave, is not for Blood and he, with a few confederates plan their escape, but when their plan goes wrong and it looks as though they are about to be discovered, the Spanish attack Barbados. In the melee, Blood and his companions, through a combination of luck and daring, seize a Spanish ship and embark on a life as pirates. The now Captain Blood and his crew have many more adventures until the happy ending when Blood and Arabella are re-united under circumstances that are vastly better for them both.

Captain Blood is a rousing adventure tale that was made into a wonderful movie of the same title. The movie made a star out of Erroll Flynn and it was his countenance I pictured as I read the book. Peter Blood, introduced as a mild mannered man, turns out to be a true leader. He commands the loyalty of his crew through a combination of honesty, fairness and a nose for treasure that makes them all very rich. While he is very far from bloodthirsty, he can be very ruthless with his enemies. Blood saves most of his venom for Spain, though, and soon becomes the scourge of the Spanish fleet. (This part of the book is a good example of La Leyenda Negra, the tendency for writers of the time, to paint all Spaniards as deep dyed villains). Blood also clashes with French pirates, most notably Levasseur (played wonderfully by Basil Rathbone in the movie), but he likes and gets along well with the Dutch. Blood is such a vivid, larger than life character that he quite dominates the book.

Arabella is not quite as vivid a character. She misunderstands Blood’s actions mostly due to wrong information, and she is appalled by his occupation as a pirate, but she has a core of love for him from the moment she sees him. Though courted by Lord Julian, a fine gentleman, she still has feelings for Blood. On his part, Peter Blood wants Arabella’s goodwill with all his heart and writhes when she calls him a thief and a pirate. Arabella was played by Olivia de Havilland in the movie.

I love swashbucklers, in the movies and in print, and with Captain Blood, both the book and movie rank near the top. A few years ago, I had a student from Georgia (the country, not the state) and he said that this was one of his favorite books of all time and it had helped him learn English. A good story crosses all boundaries, and this book is storytelling at its best.

Reviewed by Ellen Micheletti
Grade : A

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : April 11, 2009

Publication Date: 2007

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Ellen Micheletti

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