The Carolinian is saved by its subplot

The Carolinian is a historical novel set in South Carolina in the early days the American Revolution.

Rafael Sabatini’s novel fails as a romance—its loving couple don’t trust each other an inch—but a supporting plot almost makes up for the book’s predictable and silly love story.


The Carolinian by Rafael Sabatini

Grosset & Dunlap, 1924,  414 pp. 1925 bestseller # 9. My grade: C.


Cover of 1925 edition of The Carolinian: title and author name in black type on blue cover.As the novel opens, Harry Latimer’s fiance, Myrtle Carey, has returned his ring upon learning he’s joined the Sons of Liberty.

Harry suspects fortune-hunting, English army officer Capt. Mandeville has inserted a spy into the rebel cell.

That’s the only time in the novel, Harry gets something right: Harry has the psychological perceptivity of a hedgehog, and Myrtle is his soul-mate.

The novel’s real interest is lawyer John Rutledge.

Carolinians select Rutledge to lead them in the defense of Charles Town and the fight for independence from the Crown, despite his tendency to be somewhat imperial himself.

Fearing the town’s residents will be slaughtered by overwhelming odds, Rutledge initiates negotiations for surrender.

While passions flare around him, Rutledge scribbles away with a pencil, oblivious to everything but the document on which he’s working.

Although the Rutledge incident didn’t happen the way Sabatini tells it, it should have: It’s far more exciting than Harry and Myrtle.

 © 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mistress Wilding Hews to History

Mistress Wilding is a historical romance on the standard loathing-turns-to-love pattern. What little interest there is in the novel is in the historical setting.

Rafael Sabatini sets the novel in the west of England in 1685 when the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of King Charles II, attempted to incite an insurrection he claimed was to restore Protestantism. At the time, memories were still vivid of the English Civil Wars fought,  in part, over the extent to which the Church of England would emulate elements of the Catholic mass.

Sabatini’s hero, Anthony Wilding, is a Protestant, working surreptitiously for Monmouth. The love of his life is Catholic. Her initial antagonism to Wilding is not on religious grounds, however, but because the worthless brother she adores doesn’t like him.

Sabatini’s story line hews closely to the historical facts, dragging his characters to the places where the events occurred with total disregard for their psychological credibility.

Sabatini seems to regret not having focused the novel on the men’s reactions to realizing their leader is undeniably inept and possibly a liar as well.

Readers will regret it, too.

The Mistress Wilding he delivered is a yawn.

Mistress Wilding
by Rafael Sabatini
1924 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg e-book #1457

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

My Personal Favorites from 1923

The 1923 bestseller list doesn’t include any great books, but it includes a trio that I’d like in my personal hardback collection:  a light, but thoughtful romance and two very different thrillers.

The Enchanted April enchanted me

My favorite 1923 bestselling novel is The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim. It’s a sunny novel, full of descriptions that made me laugh out loud before reading  the lines aloud to savor their sounds.

Beyond that, though, the novel is wise and reflective. The four female leads discover their unhappiness is due more to their attitudes than to their circumstances.

A little vacation away from home, housework, husbands, and London’s rain, give them enough physical and mental rest that they can see their lives are really pretty good.

Running through the novel is the suggestion that life is to be enjoyed as it happens. Living in the past, as Mrs. Fisher is inclined to do, or loathing the present in anticipation of happiness in heaven as Rose does, are as unsatisfactory as Lottie’s and Lady Caroline’s teeth-gritting through every day.

If The Enchanted April sounds too feminine for you, my two other top picks from 1923 may be more appealing.

Wanderer of the Wasteland left me gasping

Zane Grey’s The Wanderer of the Wasteland pits man against Mother Nature and against his human nature. The plot is not a typical western either. Grey has some surprises that show real mastery of his craft.

The wasteland of the novel is Death Valley. It looks inhospitable when seen from the highway. Zane Grey takes readers there on foot, to experience a climate that’s not just hot, but poisonous. Grey’s descriptions left me gasping.

The Sea Hawk had unusual 16th century view

My third choice from the  1923 bestseller list is another thriller about hunk with a cranium: The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini. The Sea Hawk is an action thriller; it’s easily to imagine Errol Flynn playing Sir Oliver in a film version of the story.

The conflict in The Sea Hawk is man against man: Sir Oliver Tressilian will tackle anyone who stands in his way, whether they be Spanish,  Islamic, or his own half-brother.

Though the novel is very physical, Sabatini gives Sir Oliver brains and a developing moral sense that, along with the context of  state-sponsored piracy in the 16th century,  raise The Sea Hawk above the slash-and-burn level.

That wraps up my reading of the 1923 bestsellers.

Through the first week in September, I’m going to be picking up some novels I missed when they should have been reviewed a couple of years ago.

The Sea-Hawk Grabs and Won’t Let Go

Triple-masted pirate ship at sea with mountains in distance
Pirate Ship at Sea

In the first chapter of The Sea-Hawk, Rafael Sabatini whispers the broad outline of his plot just loudly enough that dedicated novel readers will catch it. Tte foreshadowing barely has time to register before Sabatini plunges his 16th century hero into an adventure that shows off his thoughtful, complicated personality as well as his biceps.

The story starts out in traditional romance fashion.

Sir Oliver Tressilian repaired his family’s fortune by preying on the Spanish Armada. Now he wants to marry  but Rosamond’s brother, Peter Godolphin, doesn’t want her to wed a pirate.

Oliver’s half-brother murders Peter Godolphin, then covers the murder by having  Oliver kidnapped and sold as a galley-slave. Oliver’s disappearance looks like an admission of guilt.

When fighters of the Basha of Algiers take the ship, Oliver turns Muslim. His prowess in attacking ships of Christian nations wins him the name Sakr-el-Bahr, Hawk of the Sea.

Learning Lionel is to marry Rosamond, Oliver seeks revenge. He makes a raid on Cornwall to abduct Lionel.

The raid raises questions about Oliver’s loyalty to Islam. The wrong answer would mean death.

The plot sounds rather Errol Flynn-ish, but there’s no hint of central casting in Sabatini’s characters. They react and develop in psychologically plausible ways.

You need not be fan of nautical thrillers, to enjoy The Sea-Hawk. It is worth reading just for its insights into Islamic culture.

The Sea-Hawk
by Rafael Sabatini
1923 bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg EBook #3294

Photo credit: Pirate Ship at Sea by KBlack

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni