The Nuptials of Corbal

Cléonie is a young aristocrat who expects she'll soon be sent, as her parents were, to the guillotine. So when she's saved by Citizen Chauvinère, she's suspicious of his motives. She dresses as a man and escapes Paris, but once her freedom is in reach, Chauvinère doesn't seem interested in following through on his promises.

After a daring escape she meets the former Vicomte de Corbal, whose calm country life has also just been disrupted by Chauvinère. And while Corbal was willing to face his own fate with dignity, leaving Cléonie in danger isn't something he'll consider.

The Nuptials of Corbal may not be one of Sabatini's most elaborate stories, but I loved it. Cléonie is an active and sympathetic heroine who doesn't freeze up over difficult choices, which is always nice to see in a genre that includes so many damsels.

It doesn't have any of those swashbuckling action scenes so common in the author's other books, and the romance moves quickly enough that it could feel silly under other circumstances. It's hard to see those things as major drawbacks since the result is a tight, pretty story with an interesting focus on cooperative survival.

 "You have three days for consideration, citizen Corbal."

Corbal advanced a step, betrayed out of his imperturbability. The sudden perception that he stood before a wall of unreason, against which intelligent argument must shatter itself in vain, drove him to momentary madness. His eyes blazed from a face that passion turned from red to white.

"Three seconds would be too much, citizen-president, for consideration; three centuries not enough to alter my resolve to reject this infamy."

Cléonie and Corbal are brave in the face of certain death, but they're willing to fight when the opportunity becomes available. And while the book puts an emphasis on their blood and breeding, the characters don't wallow in their honor or use it to justify stupid decisions. Corbal actually refuses one honorable solution to their problem because he refuses to leave Cléonie "at the mercy of luck or marksmanship."

Historical fiction is overstuffed with men who seem almost eager to die gloriously and leave their loved ones in the lurch. So even if the rest of this book was crap (and it's not), I'd still like it for having a hero who values practicality over principles.

This one also stands out from some of Sabatini's other books because we spend a good chunk of time with the antagonist. Chauvinère is a grasping jerk with a tendency to overplay his hand, but he also knows exactly how to use the institutions of revolutionary France to pursue his own goals. It makes him a frightening opponent, and only Cléonie's quick thinking saves the couple from his final trick.

I'm linking all these reviews from my Sabatini book list, so check there to see the other books I've written about so far. This illustration, by Harold Brett, is from the 1927 Houghton Mifflin hardcover.

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