Published first as a serial and then as a novel with continued short stories, Sabatini’s Captain Blood follows the tradition of transatlantic pirate literature in which roguish men wronged by the tyrannical monarchs they live under are forced from their homes and into a life of piracy. With many events in the story taken from the true story of Henry Morgan, Captain Blood describes a soldier turned doctor turned slave turned pirate as during the Golden Age of Piracy a man named Peter Blood is accused of treason.
What is Captain Blood about?
Captain Blood is a pirate adventure novel focused on the core character of Peter Blood, an Irish doctor wrongly accused of treason and sent to Barbados as a slave. Blood is a intelligent, attractive, and gentlemanly pirate who fares well in the Caribbean and is offered commissions under not one, but three different kings due to his success as a buccaneer. The novel itself focuses on telling his adventures as supposedly written by one of his friends, Jeremy Pitt, the account having been discovered by the author. As a whole, the narrative concerns how successful a pirate Blood was while also how he fell for a woman and ultimately shaped his pirate career around her.
Genre: Pirate Adventure/Pirate Literature
Yep this genre is specifically called pirate literature, but it is also definitely an adventure story! The story concerns the adventures (and misadventures) of Peter Blood especially those that occur after he escapes slavery in Barbados and becomes the eponymous Captain Blood, leading a fleet of buccaneers about the Caribbean.
Tropes: A rogue with a heart of gold
This novel definitely takes the romantic road of pirate literature, portraying Captain Peter Blood as a gentleman with learning, chivalry, and love at his core. Despite becoming a thief and a pirate, Blood never forgets the affection he has for the woman he loves and despite the lack of romance mentioned throughout the novel, the author regularly reaffirms that Blood is motivated at least in part by the beautiful Arabella Bishop. On top of that, he is a good person at heart who shows endless sympathy and humanity for others and fights against those that would enslave or beat those beneath him.
Plot: Uh……Cup of Gold but not?
So here’s the thing, I very much felt throughout the novel that I was reading something I’d already read before. Want to know why? The author, Rafael Sabatini, invented Peter Blood as a person but largely his adventures were based on the real life adventures of infamous pirate Henry Morgan. So, having read a variety of versions of Morgan’s story (including Steinbeck’s Cup of Gold) the adventures of Blood sounded familiar, and the ending of his story was cookie cutter to the genre and to Morgan’s story. Despite a very different personality, and a few made up stories to embellish Blood’s narrative, the vast majority of his story had already been done.
This book is ultimately an example of my favorite type of pirate literature. It takes an unhappy and displaced man of intelligence, throws him into the Caribbean, and he figures it out from there. I really do love pirate novels that fall into that formula, so I was basically guaranteed to enjoy this book! Despite the brief confusion I had about Henry Morgan (I’ll touch on that in a moment) this book entertained me every step of the way, and I especially liked the way it was written as though it were a true account rediscovered over a hundred years later. This was entertaining, a fast read, and one of the better written pirate novels I’ve encountered!
As to be expected of an adventure novel in which the romantic subplot is just there because the hero deserves a prize, the romance left much to be desired. The love interest herself, Arabella, was reasonable in part because the author felt the need to make her more masculine in order to be an approved love interest for Blood. She’s not as hysterical or emotional as other women, the story claims, and thus she’s strong enough to handle the turmoil of loving Captain Blood. Luckily, since the novel really just wanted to keep describing the Captain’s exploits, not a lot of time was spent on the very nineteenth century Arabella (despite the book being published in the twentieth century).
This part isn’t so much a genuine criticism, but something that did jar me a bit and take me out of the reading. Early in the book, the author discusses where he sourced the material for his writings on Captain Blood’s life and at the same time says that many of Blood’s exploits were wrongly attributed to the famous (and real) Henry Morgan. Though I had this mind, there were a few events in the course of the novel that were genuine historic events retold. Rather than using the real historical figures, in order to pass of these events from Morgan’s life as the fictional Captain Blood’s heroic deeds, Sabatini invents a whole cast of new pseudo-historical figures. As someone with a fascination for the time period, a degree in maritime archaeology, and several courses on maritime and pirate history under her belt I was constantly stopping to double check that what I knew about these events was correct. It was difficult at times to reconcile Sabatini’s otherwise accurate timeline of events with the fictional people he’d created.
I really did enjoy Captain Blood! It has more action to sustain it than some of the longer, drawn out examples of pirate literature and despite my historical confusion over Morgan’s exploits, the conflicts and dialogue are engaging and well written. I found that I did like all the characters the reader is meant to like, and I thoroughly disliked all of the antagonists of the story. Blood was easy to root for, as he was designed to be, and with that characterization I was also able to enjoy and follow the story of his adventures. As an example of a standard pirate literature adventure novel, I think this books stands pretty well on its own two feet and is definitely worth attention if you’re interested in pirates, or maritime stories at all.
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