Monday, March 27, 2006


Buckle my swash

Once a year or so I develop a yen for some good swashbuckling novels. This craving often strikes after I've spent too much time reading "serious" fiction (whatever that is - we know it when we see it, however). I've got a few favorites that I re-read faithfully every few years - I find that if I let some time pass between readings I will have forgotten just enough of the plots to make the books nearly new again (I can read fiction quite quickly but have very poor retention, a plus in my view). So, here they are, a few swordplay-containing worthies:

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (1905). Wonderful, satisfying froth. My old paperback reprint is battered from being jammed into carry-on luggage and trip-to-the-beach bags.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini (1921). When I worked at a new-book store many years ago, I ordered a hardcover reprint for a local mathematics professor. When the book arrived, he picked it up, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "Miss Faragher (he always called me that), I love this book, and I will always love this book, because it shows me that a person can always abandon a perfectly respectable career and become a PIRATE!" Arrr!

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (I think the first edition was published in 1926, I have a 1950s reprint). Her best? Perhaps someone will argue with me about that. My favorite, at least. The Masqueraders might be my second favorite. I read this for the first time about age 12, with many of her other romances. At the time, I also used to read Barbara Cartland (oh, the shame...), but thankfully no longer! Unlike other romance novelists, I've found Heyer to have staying power, largely due to her neat plots, humor, and very witty dialogue.

The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett (1960s-1970s, but still available new in quality paper reprints from Vintage). A series of six novels, and if you take this on, dear readers, be prepared to be utterly consumed for several weeks. They are densely written and have a compelling urgency that kept me reading late into the night, again and again. My friend Sue told me to read them. Several times. Then she said that Lymond is her favorite fictional hero of all time. She had a fanatical light in her eye, and when I happened across the first few volumes at a library sale, I remembered that glint.

There are others, but I'll keep it at that for today. These are what I turn to for sheer escapism, after I've finished Jane Austen and Patrick O'Brian and still want to dwell in a time and place other than present-day Maine. I am not particularly drawn to mysteries or fantasy/sci-fi, so this is where I go instead. Buckle my swash! Or as Daffy Duck would say, "Odds my bodkins..."

Try to get your hands on some of Gerald Durrell's work. He is super.
Not swashbuckling, but his "My Family and Other Animals" is one of my all-time favorite books. I've had a life-long desire to visit Corfu solely because of this book and its sequels.
I just started reading The Count of Monte Cristo today(was inspired to do so after watching "V For Vendetta) and also picked up a copy of Man In The Iron Mask. I know the Three Musketeers is more of a swashbuckler but I've never read Dumas(except for a couple of kiddie adaptations)and it's about high time that I did:)

Lauren Willig has two novels out that feature the Scarlet Pimpernel;The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and The Masque of the Black Tulip. They're much lighter than the Orzcy book(with a "person in the present day discovering the secrets of the past" plot device)but they're also good fun reads.
What a fun bunch of suggestions!

Do you know the Barsetshire novels of Angela Thirkell? Not swashbuckling, for certain, but a lot of fun. I've read/reread one a month for a few years. They are comedy of manners novels, taking place before, during, and after World War II and set in Trollope's Barsetshire. Some of the old families are descendants of the Thornes, Greshams, and Crawleys. There's not usually much in the way of plot, but they are funny books, due to Thirkell's sometimes acid pen and always well-chosen words.

A list of the books can be found at But be warned- stay away from the non-Barsetshire books and, if you get hooked on the series like me, there are 29 of them.

Masterpiece Theater will be presenting a film of My Family and Other Animals in April. I, too, love the book, and I hope the film will be as funny and lyrical.
And have a look at the Captain Alatriste books by Arturo Perez-Reverte (excuse the lack of accents in the middle of his name). Two of the Spanish originals have been translated into English so far: "Captain Alatriste" and "Purity of Blood".
Thanks for more suggestions, everyone - I love hearing about favorite books. Dumas! Of course! I should have listed RLS's "Treasure Island" also.

I haven't read any Thirkell yet - and will think long and hard about whether or not I should embark on a 29-book reading spree any time soon... Nothing would get done, *nothing*, I tell you!

The only Perez-Reverte books I've read are of course the bookish ones ("The Club Dumas" about booksellers and rare books, and "The Nautical Chart" which mentions Tintin over and over again), but I will keep a weather eye out for others.

I hadn't heard about the Durrell pbs film - I hope they do the book justice! I wonder if it was filmed on location. I'll watch and see, and hope.
The Captain Alatriste novels are HUGE in Spain, so I hear. Expect them to be everywhere at the end of the year - Viggio Mortenson is appearing in the lead role in the film adaptation. Can't say more than that.
The first two are available in hardcover only in the U.S. (spring of 2005 and January of 2006). Should I attempt to take them out of the local library, I wonder? No, NO, resist (specter of future library fines looms large)!
The Lauren Willig books do not directly involve the Scarlet Pimpernel, but the first features his successor, the Purple Gentian. The second features the Gentian's second in command. They're frilly and light hearted, but pretty good.
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