Last fall, as I was killing time during a rehearsal break downtown, I stopped in at Borders down on Randolph, and looked for something to read. I considered the new Cornwell series, the Saxon stories, but I had just read the latest Sharpe, so I pressed on down the aisles. I've read all the Aubrey-Maturin books, and McCullough's Masters Of Rome. I have never read Dumas, but after starting THE COUNT OF MONTE CHRISTO, I got stalled - damn, that's a big book, too large to read backstage (not that I shouldn be throwing stones in that particular glass house - MV is 570 pages. But still).
Then I got to the S aisle, and there he was - Raphael Sabatini. I'd read one of his books a decade back, because of a review I had gotten for my performance of Petruchio in Shrew. I don't have it anymore, but I remember it saying something about me looking like I had "just stepped out of a Raphael Sabatini novel." Since I only knew Sabatini as the source of the early Errol Flynn films, I picked CAPTAIN BLOOD to read. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't a revelation. And I started the Sea Hawk, only to be disappointed to find it had nothing to do with the film.
More fool me. There were three books on the Borders shelf - CAPTAIN BLOOD, SCARAMOUCHE, and THE SEA HAWK. I picked up the two I hadn't read, and blew through them on the El in a matters of days.
Now, his stories are pretty similar - an innocent young man is betrayed and thrust into circumstance - piracy, revolution, etc. He becomes bitter, detached from what he was, and excells in his new field through his own natural excellence. But his love for someone he's been separated from brings him to renounce what he's become, and claim his rightful place in society.
What amazed me more than the stories themselves was the wide expanse of Sabatini's topic matter. The French Revolution, the English Revolution, the era of the pirate Dragut (Elizabethan England). Then I read Bernard Cornwell's introduction to THE SEA HAWK and learned that Sabatini wrote not three, but thirty-five novels! Not all good, sure, but some of Shakespeare's plays are rather less than others.
So, for Christmas this year, I received a dozen of his novels, all vintage printings, as I have been unable to get any recent printings of his more obscure books (actually, I ordered them from Amazon in September, and they still haven't shipped!). Because of playing Brutus, directing Othello, and working on the sequel, I've only cracked one, THE SWORD OF ISLAM. But it was great! Sabatini wrote the kind of books he most wanted to read, which were adventure stories. Him and me both.
So, really, while you're waiting for THE MASTER OF VERONA, go out and find the man who helped create the genre of Historical Fiction, and immerse yourself in one of his worlds. It's more than worth it.