1788, France. When André-Louis Moreau, illegitimate son of no-one knows who, witnesses the murder of his best friend by the arrogant Marquis de la Tour d’Azyr, he vows to avenge him. Revolution is in the air, the Third Estate is demanding its rights and André, a lawyer, is determined to bring the marquis to justice. But the marquis has powerful friends and, before long, André is on the run.
In a series of thrilling adventures, André joins a travelling Commedia dell’arte theatre company and takes on the role of the wily rogue Scaramouche; becomes the speaker for the deputies of Nantes at the Estates-General at Versailles; and, when that position becomes too hot, turns fencing-master in Paris. Not only is the marquis determined to see André dead, he also plans to marry Aline, the woman André himself loves. The twists and turns of the plot add further complications in the shape of Climène, the pretty actress of easy virtue, and some unexpected revelations about André’s parentage.
First published in 1921, Scaramouche was Sabatini’s fourteenth novel and a runaway best-seller. As Bernard Cornwell’s excellent introduction comments, Sabatini gives readers what they want: ‘strong storylines, vivid characters and exotic settings.’ The plot is terrific and the pace fast and furious. Furthermore, Sabatini has done his research: André’s adventures follow the course of the French Revolution as it moves ever closer to the Reign of Terror.
I have been a Sabatini fan since I was a teenager and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Scaramouche again. However, I did wonder whether a modern editor might not want some of the slightly over-long paragraphs pruned but the book is well worth the reader’s perseverance through the slowish first chapter. When the plot takes off, it’s like a rocket. A terrific story told by a master storyteller.