Tuesday, 6 February 2001

Rafael Sabatini: Bellarion (1926)

Edition: Hutchinson & Co, 1928 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 743

By modern standards, Sabatini's prose is rather florid, but it is ideally suited to this tale of early fifteenth century Italian politics. It was a larger than life time, with swaggering condottieri, Machiavellian plotting, and high stakes in politics and war; and Sabatini portrays it atmospherically.

Bellarion, his hero, is a young man of extremely poor origins brought up in a monastery. After naively falling in with a false friar on a journey to Pavia, he becomes a fugitive in the principality of Montferrat, and then by chance involves himself in the complicated affairs of its ruling family. By showing himself a master of political manoeuvre, he begins a rise to power, eventually commanding his own army of mercenaries.

The big problem with Bellarion, once the reader is used to the style, is the central character. He is too good to be true, constantly able to outguess all those around him. His only flaw, in terms of the attitudes of his time, is a lack of any desire to excel personally as a leader; though not lacking in courage, he knows that his physical prowess in the field of battle is low, and is unwilling to expose himself to danger unnecessarily. Sabatini's heroes do tend to succeed through use of their brains rather than through their bodies; he consistently supports the intellectual over the physical.

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