Friday, 5 January 2018

The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, edited by Lawrence Ellsworth

My wife found me this gem: a thick collection of swashbuckling tales from several masters of the field - many of them unknown to me until now. You can find all of the big names here, from Alexandre Dumas and Baroness Orczy to Rafael Sabatini, but also some less well known names such as Stanley J. Feyman and Anthony Hope. Pirates, swordsmen, nobles - you can find it all here. It is pretty impossible to review an entire collection of stories from so many authors: a lot depends on the quality of the individual stories and they are still all of them unique and would deserve a separate paragraph of their own. I don't have time such a deep review, unfortunately, but I will try to give you my overall impression.

The editor, and the person who selected the stories for the collection, Lawrence Ellsworth, gives a short introduction of what swashbucklers are and defines the nature of the collection: he admits that modern fantasy stories have many similar elements as traditional swashbucklers, but he has chosen to include only stories that qualify as historical adventure tales. And, as the enthusiasts of swashbucklers know, this still leaves us with a great number of authors to choose from. Ellsworth gives a short author introduction of each author before that author's story and these are as interesting as the short stories and novellas themselves; providing information about which author influenced which and when each of the authors was best known - and how quickly they were sometimes forgotten.

The collection begins strongly with Sabatini, Hope, H. Bedford-Jones and others and it continues that way until we get to the tenth story. Surprisingly, Ellsworth has decided to include a few stories that are not really stand-alone, but parts of larger wholes. That is not so bad when he gives a short excerpt of McCulley's Zorro novel that works very well as a short story, but the tenth story is basically the final few chapters of Alexandre Dumas' White Plume on the Mountains. I can understand providing the beginnings of stories as examples of the authors' work, but spoiling the end is not really something that I can see myself enjoying. Luckily, there are only a couple of such inclusions in this collection and all the other stories are very strong and introduce the reader to a wide variety of swashbuckling authors.

The writing style of all of these stories is, of course, somewhat aged to a modern reader, but I have always found it part of the attraction with these sorts of stories. As such, I can full-heartedly recommend this collection to any fan of the genre or someone just looking for a fun, adventurous read.