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“The Sea Hawk” – Artist unknown

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter may recall my brief review of Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood and my intent to go on to his The Sea Hawk?  In it, I mentioned the faithfulness of the Errol Flynn “Captain Blood” movie to the book and wondered whether his “Sea Hawk” film would be the same.

Well, my friends, I finished reading The Sea Hawk, but I’m here to tell you there is absolutely no connection between the book and the Flynn movie.

Ol’ Robbo was expecting another sea-tale of English Rovers under Good Queen Bess harrying the Dons in the New World and appropriating the loot being sent back to Spain, simply because that’s what the movie was.  It’s there, all right, but completely disposed of in the first page or two.  This is the story of a particular Cornish Gentleman which picks up after his roving days and his service against the Armada.  Through a series of events too complicated to spell out, he is wrongfully suspected of killing his intended’s brother, is kidnapped by his own half-brother (the real killer) who plans to sell him into slavery on the Barbary Coast, is captured by the Spanish at sea and sent by the Inquisition to the galleys, is captured again by Muslim Corsairs, and at that point decides to go renegade, winding up as the right-hand man of the Pasha of Algiers, shedding his name of Sir Oliver Tressilian and becoming Sakr-El-Bahr, the “Sea Hawk”.

And that’s all just in Part I of the book.

The second, longer part is about his return journey, so to speak, and involves revenge, intrigue, and Islamic power politicks, plus the very long (I’d say a bit too long) evolution of his relationship with the girl he’d meant to marry at the start of the story.  Without giving away any spoilers, there’s a very exciting rescue, plus a final scene with a few surprise twists that leads to a satisfactory conclusion.

As I said about the other Sabatini book, a good, ripping yarn.

One thing that struck me was a fair amount of hostility towards Christianity on the part of the author, who largely dismisses those who profess it as hypocrites.  Sabatini seems far more approving of Islam which, he seems to argue, may be barbarous, but at least is honest about it.  He also emphasizes its fatalistic character and the effect this has on its adherents. (I seem to recall reading somewhere that this is a big factor behind why so many prisoners convert:  If one’s fate has already been written, then one isn’t responsible for one’s actions.) I wouldn’t call it an outright embracing, but he’s certainly sympathetic in his portrayal of the Corsairs and their ways.

Anyhoo, another book that will definitely stay on Ol’ Robbo’s adventure-stories shelf.




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