Swashbucklers, past and future, plus other books I’ve read

After watching The Sea Hawk back in February, I decided to reread its source, Rafael Sabatini’s novel THE SEA HAWK (yes, it took a while). I was pleasantly surprised to find it as much fun as I remembered: Elizabethan protagonist Sir Oliver saves his brother Lionel from a murder rap only to have the spineless youth realize framing Oliver for the crime would be even safer; to top it off, he pays a sea captain to have Oliver “trepanned” (shanghaid) and sold off as a galley slave, after which Lionel will pretend Oliver fled rather than face justice.

Fast-forward several years and Oliver is now Sakh el Bahr, the Sea Hawk, a legend among the Barbary pirates. When he learns from a captive that Lionel is marrying Oliver’s faithless fiancee, the Sea Hawk heads back to England to settle some scores … This was a solid swashbuckler with decent characterization and avoids making the Muslim supporting characters into devils. And unlike the film, nobody has to get into brownface to play the Arabs.

THE STAR KINGS has John Gordon, a WW II vet, agree to change minds with Zarth Arn, a prince from a galactic empire 200,000 years in the future. It’s only supposed to be temporary, but when the League of Dark Worlds begins its attack on the peaceful interstellar worlds, the prince’s father has “Zarth Arn” yanked out of his lab before the return switch. Now Gordon has a pivotal role in a fight he can barely understand, with incredibly advanced technology, and a romantic triangle to cope with to boot. This is a fun adventure, and the amoral, manipulative Shorr Kan is a remarkably likable villain. It does show its age in that while there’s a lot of advanced energy powers allowing for FTL communication and travel, the tech uses vacuum tubes.

The Shadow novel GANGDOM’S DOOM by Walter Gibson starts off with a bang when Claude Fellows — introduced as one of the Shadow’s agents in the first of the series — visits Chicago to help a witness turn state’s evidence, only to die in a hail of machine-gun fire. That, of course, brings the Shadow into the picture, but the results are a little too stock — you could replace the Shadow with a G-Man and not have it change much. Like The Shadow Laughs, this reuses crooks from an earlier story; statements that the Shadow never kills his enemies show Gibson was still working his mythos out (that certainly wouldn’t stay true). Competent, but not a standout.

Edward Eager’s TIME GARDEN has the kids from Knight’s Castle preparing for a dull summer at a seaside mansion where obviously no magic is going to find them. Then they meet a talking Natterjack which reveals the mansion’s thyme garden is yes, a time garden, allowing them adventures on the Underground Railroad, in the story of Little Women and to meet their parents as kids (a scene we already saw from the parents’ perspective in Half-Magic). Eager’s writing style is charming and his kids are fun, but as the kids themselves complain, adventures in history aren’t as exciting as the more outrageous exploits of the earlier books.

I picked up BREAKING BREADS: A New World of Israeli Baking — Flatbreads, Stuffed Breads, Challahs, Cookies and the Legendary Chocolate Babka by Uri Scheft from the library when it turned up in the same title search as Breaking Bread. Unfortunately it’s not very useful: Scheft is all about using a dough mixer and I don’t think I can translate “one minute on slow, two minutes on high speed” into hand-kneading. However it was fun to read about babkas, burekas and other popular breads of Israel.

#SFWApro. Cover art is uncredited; all rights to image remain with current holder.

1 Comment

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One response to “Swashbucklers, past and future, plus other books I’ve read

  1. Pingback: Math, mediums, scurvy and kids: books read. | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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