Rafael Sabatini is a huge influence on my work. The plot lines are so cleverly crafted and no author turns a phrase quite as well as Sabatini. I fell in love with Captain Blood about as soon as I opened the book and the opening phrase to The Tavern Knight is still one of my personal favorites. Scaramouche is also a fantastic historical adventure epic and even The Sea Hawk is enjoyable if you can get past the fact that the protagonist’s love interest is the most annoying female character written in the history of female characters. Oof.
But still, I love Sabatini’s work. Soon after finishing Captain Blood I picked up the “sequel” — Captain Blood Returns. I was really confused reading the first two “chapters” since there were character that were supposed to have died in the original book that were now, somehow, alive. It wasn’t until I took to the Internet later that I found out that Captain Blood Returns wasn’t a sequel, per say, but just a collection of short-stories about the Irish surgeon turned pirate that took place while he was still a buccaneer. Once I realized that things made more sense.
Same goes with The Fortunes of Captain Blood. It’s the third book in the “series” and it’s another collection of short-stories. There are six in total and the book is about 240 pages long, so the short stories are on the longer side each. And like in the original novel and the sequel collection of shorts, Fortunes of Captain Blood shows the Irish pirate at his best, putting his rapier wit against the fleet of the Spanish Main. It’s interesting to read swashbucklers in which so little swashbuckling actually happen, but because of that the stories still feel fresh — even 90+ years after their original publishing. It’s not easy to write a character who thinks his way out of trouble in stead of just stabbing and shooting everyone in his path to his goal, but the end result is just as enjoyable if not more so. If you’ve read the first two books you know Captain Blood always has something up his sleeve, but seeing his plan unfold is the best part.
Here are what the six stories are about, but I try not to give away the ending or any major plot twists.
The Dragon’s Jaw. Captain Blood is escorting a Spanish governor back to San Domingo. The governor was badly injured and Blood took to his old trade to patch the governor up. Blood gets the governor’s word that the Spanish fleet at San Domingo won’t molest him when they pull into harbor, allowing Blood to fix his own ship up. It’s the governor’s way of thanking Blood for his selfless work. So Blood drops his passenger off and goes about his work, but additional Spanish ships pull into harbor and aren’t so keen on letting Blood sail away. It leads to a standoff at the Dragon’s Jaw in which Blood must out smart his Spanish adversaries.
The Pretender. Incognito, Blood hears of a fleet of Spanish plate ships nearby as well as fantastic tales of treachery and murder that Captain Blood has done. Only, Captain Blood hasn’t done any of these things. It appears someone’s spreading some pretty nasty lies about him. Blood leaves in search of the plate ships, finds them, and concocts an elaborate plan to secure their release from Don Sebastian, who is in charge of the ships. Just as Blood’s plan is hitting his stride the fort is attacked by pirates. Having weakened the fort for his own demise, Blood must defeat this incursion to save his own hide, as well as try to steal the plate ships.
The Demonstration. France has grown weary of the idea that it’s harboring pirates in their bays, especially Tortuga. An emissary is sent to the Caribbean to let all the French governors know that they are no longer allowed to deal with the pirates. The governor of Tortuga tries explaining why this would be devastating to French interests but the king has spoken. Having left the French governor tells Captain Blood the bad news. Blood takes off in hopes of changing the emissary’s mind but it won’t be easy.
The Deliverance. One of Blood’s crew, Nathaniel Hagthorpe, yearns to see his brother — a rebel sold into slavery — freed from his bonds. Peter Blood promises that it will happen but they need to wait for the right moment. That moment comes in the form of a passenger who wants passage to Nevis. Blood agrees and then lets his mind churn away at a way of securing Hagthorpe’s brother’s release. But it won’t be that easy. There are a few fun twists in this story that’ll make the reader smile.
Sacrilege. Captain Blood gets word that the new Cardinal-Archbishop of Seville is in the Caribbean. He’s tempted to take the cardinal for ransom but thinks different of it. Meanwhile they come up across a small boat. It’s captain talks about how he was cheated, no robbed, of his slaves by the Captain-General of Cuba. Blood promises to get his money’s worth from the slaves and a new ship for his troubles. But sailing in Havana, the most formidable and well protected city in the Spanish Main won’t be easy. Besides, getting into Havana is much easier than getting out.
The Eloping Hidalga. Upon fleeing a Spanish settlement Captain Blood, in disguise, hears the cries of a woman and a fellow Englishman. Blood rushes to help. A man and a young woman are being attacked by three swordsmen. Blood fights them off and helps the hidalga and the Englishmen to their ship. They depart but the Englishman recognizes his savior as Captain Blood, who’s worth 50,000 pieces of eight if brought in dead or alive. He plans to cash in on the opportunity.
If you’re a fan of Captain Blood or pirate stories then you’ll enjoy The Fortunes of Captain Blood. Nothing says you’re enjoying a nice summer evening than reading some swashbucklers, right? The only part of Fortunes that I didn’t like is that I finished it and there are no more Captain Blood stories left to read. Guess I’ll have to start from the beginning at some point.
I’m lucky enough to have a copy of the original printing at home (yay for old books!) but you can get a reprint of the collection in paperback or on your Kindle here.