Rafael Sabatini, the author of a long string of adventure novels, several of which were made into movies, was also a writer of short stories. The Sword of Islam and Other Tales of Adventure includes 14 of his best, with yarns set in the 16th century Mediterranean, as Christian and Turkish navies strove for mastery; Renaissance Italy; the French Revolution; the civil war between cavaliers and parliamentarians; the ’45; and the dawning of WWI.
Sabatini weaves stories of intrigue, murder, narrow escapes, and tangled love affairs, with many ironic twists that sometimes leave the malefactors hoist on their own petards. And the whole is presented in elegant prose, neatly tailored to the settings and characters. Here, Sabatini sets the stage in the title story:
Ordinarily Dragut Reis – who was dubbed by the Faithful “The Drawn Sword of Islam” – loved Christians as the fox loves geese. But in that summer of 1550 his feelings acquired a far deeper malignancy; they developed into a direct and personal hatred that for intensity was second only to the hatred which Christians bore Dragut.And thus we are off on the trail of Dragut, into whose hands kismet delivers the granddaughter of the very Andrea Doria who is hunting the Barbary pirate across the sea.
The allied Christian forces, under the direction of their emperor, had smoked him out of his stronghold of Mehedia; they had seized that splendid city, and were in the act of razing it to the ground as the neighboring Carthage had been razed of old….
He had lost three thousand men, and amongst them the very flower of his fiery corsairs. He had lost some twelve thousand Christian slaves…He had lost his lieutenant and nephew, Hisar, who was even now a captive in the hands of his inveterate enemy, Andrea Doria. It is little wonder that he lost his temper, too. But he recovered it quickly, that he might set about recovering the rest. He was not the man to waste his days in brooding over what was done. Yesterday and to-day are but as pledges in the hands of destiny.
The author of swashbucklers such as Captain Blood and Scaramouche moved easily between novel and short story, and those who enjoy historical adventure fiction will find much here to relish.