St Martin’s Summer is a term used to describe a period of unusually warm weather taking place in early November – but the title of this Rafael Sabatini novel from 1909 has a double meaning, as the name of our hero is also Martin: Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache. When a young heiress, Valerie de la Vauvraye, writes to the Queen of France requesting urgent help, Garnache is the man the Queen sends to her assistance. Valerie is betrothed to Florimond de Condillac, but Florimond has been away fighting in Italy for the last three years and in his absence his stepmother, the Marquise de Condillac, has been trying to marry the girl to her own son, Marius, instead. Can Garnache rescue Valerie from the Marquise’s clutches and reunite her with Florimond?
Having read Rafael Sabatini’s most famous novels, Scaramouche, Captain Blood and The Sea-Hawk, I have moved on to his lesser known titles and have had mixed success with the ones I’ve chosen so far; some I have enjoyed, while others have been disappointing. I had high hopes for St Martin’s Summer, which seemed to be a popular one and came highly recommended by a blog reader (thank you, Cheryl T) – and I’m pleased to say that it definitely lived up to my expectations.
First of all, it’s a lot of fun to read. Set in early 17th century France, the story itself is quite simple and straightforward, revolving entirely around Garnache’s attempts to free Valerie from her imprisonment in the Chateau de Condillac and the Marquise’s attempts to thwart him. What makes the book so entertaining, though, are the lengths both sides go to in their efforts to get one step ahead: there are duels, disguises, impersonations and all sorts of other tricks and deceptions, some of which are obvious to the reader, but not to the characters, who repeatedly fall into each other’s traps!
Garnache is a wonderful character. Like many of Sabatini’s heroes, he has great courage, a quick brain and an array of other skills and talents, but also one or two serious flaws – in this case an inability to keep his temper under control:
The greatest stumbling-block in Garnache’s career had been that he could never learn to brook opposition from any man. That characteristic, evinced early in life, had all but been the ruin of him. He was a man of high intellectual gifts, of military skill and great resource; out of consideration for which had he been chosen by Marie de Medicis to come upon this errand. But he marred it all by a temper so ungovernable that in Paris there was current a byword, ‘Explosive as Garnache.’
Garnache’s temper gets him into trouble and ruins his plans again and again, which is frustrating to watch but makes him a more believable and sympathetic character than he would otherwise have been. At the beginning of the book he also has a low opinion of women – he has remained single to the age of forty – but as he spends more time in the company of Valerie, as well as being forced to pit his wits against such a formidable female opponent as the Marquise de Condillac, he begins to change his views! The Marquise is obviously a great villain, but I also liked Garnache’s quick-thinking servant Rabecque, who is sometimes more perceptive than his master, and Monsieur de Tressan, the Seneschal of Dauphiny, a cowardly man who tries to ‘run with the hare and hunt with the hounds’.
I really enjoyed this book – it was so much better than my last Sabatini, The Minion, and I hope my next choice will be another good one!
Book 22/50 from my second Classics Club list
Book 35/50 read for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.
Book 8/20 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021