Bardelys the Magnificent by Rafael Sabatini

I love Rafael Sabatini’s books. His classic tale of the French Revolution, Scaramouche, and his two famous pirate novels, Captain Blood and The Sea-Hawk, have been some of my favourite reads of the last few years, while Bellarion was a great book too. I’m now beginning to explore his more obscure books and chose this one, Bardelys the Magnificent, more or less at random when I was putting my Classics Club list together. I hoped it would be a good choice – and it was!

The story is set in 17th century France, during the reign of Louis XIII, and is narrated by the wealthy Marquis de Bardelys, a ‘libertine, a gambler, a rake, a spendthrift’ and a favourite of the King. As the novel opens, Bardelys is hosting a party in Paris at which his rival, the Comte de Chatellerault, makes an unwelcome appearance. It is well known that Chatellerault has recently tried and failed to win the hand in marriage of the beautiful Roxalanne de Lavedan and as Bardelys and his friends tease the Comte about his failure, the discussion becomes more heated. Before the night is over, Bardelys finds himself wagering his entire fortune that he can succeed where Chatellerault could not – and he sets off the next day for Languedoc, the home of Roxalanne.

Of course, things don’t go according to plan and following a series of misunderstandings, Bardelys arrives at the Lavedan estate under a mistaken identity. When he meets Roxalanne and discovers that he is genuinely falling in love with her, he knows that he should tell her the truth about who he really is, but as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to do this. To complicate things further, Bardelys learns that the man whose identity he has stolen is a wanted traitor. Our hero’s life quickly becomes such a confusing mess that it’s difficult to see how anything can ever be resolved! Will he lose his fortune, his life, or the love of Roxalanne – or will he somehow manage to keep all three?

Bardelys the Magnificent is one of Sabatini’s earliest novels, published in 1906, and although I did find it weaker than the others I’ve mentioned above, it’s another entertaining adventure with all the drama, romance, political intrigue and sword fights that you would expect. As a character, I found Marcel de Bardelys less memorable than other Sabatini protagonists such as Andre-Louis Moreau, Peter Blood and Oliver Tressilian, but he is still interesting and engaging. I referred to him as a hero above, but he is not particularly heroic at all – he is selfish and irresponsible, he makes one mistake after another, and his original reason for wanting to marry Roxalanne is hardly very admirable. Despite all of this, I still had some sympathy for him and wanted him to succeed – and, thankfully, he does also develop as a character as the novel progresses. While concealing his true identity, he finds out what people really think of him and sees himself as he appears to others.

Although I wouldn’t recommend Bardelys as the best place to start with Sabatini, if you’re already a fan I’m sure you’ll enjoy this early example of his work as much as I did. I’m looking forward to exploring more of his lesser-known novels and hope my next choice will be another good one.

This is book 11/50 from my Classics Club list.

27 thoughts on “Bardelys the Magnificent by Rafael Sabatini

  1. piningforthewest says:

    I’ve never read anything by Sabatini although I handled the books a lot in the 1970s in the library I worked in. I now feel I’ve missed out.

  2. joulesbarham says:

    I loved the film Scamouche but did not appreciate that it was from a book until I picked it up as one of three by this author in a charity bookshop some years ago. I do hope that I didn’t get rid of them when we moved house….Thanks for the review! *scurries off to check if they are still on the shelf…*

  3. Lisa says:

    I wanted to read Sabatini after I learned somewhere that Dorothy Dunnett was a fan of his books. But I didn’t get too far in the first one I tried. It may be time to try again – but not starting with this one.

    • Helen says:

      I think some of Sabatini’s heroes have a lot in common with Lymond and Nicholas, so I’m not surprised if he was one of Dunnett’s influences. I hope you have better luck next time if you decide to try again.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, so do I. I always like the idea of starting with an author’s first novel and reading through them all in order, although I don’t usually do it!

  4. Cleo @ Classical Carousel says:

    I’ve read Scaramouche and so enjoyed it. It’s nice to see that I have other Sabatini works to look forward to. Anything set in 17th century France must be exciting and definitely worth a read. Thanks for your excellent review! 🙂

    • Helen says:

      Scaramouche is wonderful and I think some of his others (particularly The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood) are just as good. This one is fun too – as you say, 17th century France is always a great setting.

  5. cirtnecce says:

    I have never read Sabatini and I don’t think I will do him or his work much justice if I start with this one. However I have heard great things about Scaramouche and I think I will move it up on my TBR

  6. Cheryl T says:

    I read Scaramouche after reading a forum recommendation, followed it with Captain Blood, then forgot about Sabatini for a while. Decided to revisit his works through Project Gutenberg. Although I found fault with Mistress Wilding, St. Martin’s Summer kept me entertained. Glad to know I’m not alone.

    • Helen says:

      It’s good to hear from another Sabatini reader. If you haven’t read The Sea-Hawk yet, that’s another of my favourites. I’m glad you enjoyed St Martin’s Summer – maybe I’ll try that one next!

  7. Cheryl T says:

    The Sea-Hawk will be my main course, after a few of Sabatini’s lesser known works as appetizers.

    FYI, St. Martin’s Summer is a rollicking adventure set in early 17th century France. The Tavern Knight, which opens at the close of the English Civil War, is an intriguing story I lament ending abruptly. The Jacobite rebellion of early 18th century England is the backdrop to The Lion’s Skin. It’s more wordy than action-packed, but Sabatini’s portrayal of human nature imparts interest.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for that information, Cheryl. All of those settings sound appealing to me. I’ll look forward to reading them, particularly St Martin’s Summer!

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