"...Swift-moving, picturesque and well-told..."
The Lion's Skin
"The man that once did sell the lion's skin while the beast lived, was killed with hunting him. Remember that!" His back to the wall, the shadow of the noose over him, Justin Caryll flung these words at the brother who sought to destroy him.
Since childhood and his mother's cruel death, young Caryll had been bred in France by his guardians for one purposeto wreak their vengeance on the father who had never known him. But Caryll did not complete his mission. Instead, he sailed for England and plunged into a maelsrom of dissension and revolt that teemed with danger for himand for beautiful Mistress Winthrop who loved him. But, in the end the hunter failed, and in this case, the lion was generous.
published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911
In his introduction to American printing of The Lion's Skin, Sabatini refers to this novel and several others as "sins of his literary youth." While, the book is certainly not as well thought out as Captain Blood and lacks the polish of Scaramouche, I find very little here for which to appologize.
Like many of his stories, The Lion's Skin is a romp through the upper classes during a time of political turmoil. Justin Caryll is the illegitimate son of the Earl of Ostermore who has been raised in France by a friend of his mother's, Sir Richard Everard. Caryll is honorable, intelligent, educated, well-bred, loyal...in short, the typical, "perfect" Sabatini hero. Lord Ostermore is self-centered and cowardly, but not the main antagonist. That is left to his son, Viscount Rotherby, who is just as vain and egotistical as his father, but whose primary character flaws are that he has no sense of honor and is a bully. Caryll and Rotherby meet when Caryll stops a mock wedding Rotherby has set up to dishonor Ostermore's ward.
Like all the other characters in the novel, the women are not as clearly drawn here as in Sabatini's later works. There are two major ones: Lady Ostermore, the bitter, shrewish wife, and Hortensia, the beautiful, kind and trusting ward. They are not quite cardboard cutouts, but room for their characterization is sacrificed for turnings of the plot.
The basic themes of the book, revenge and illegitimacy, are devices that Sabatini comes back to time and again in his other novels. This book does not cover any new ground, but the political intrigues in which Justin Caryll considers ensnaring his father, and the relationship Justin has to his foster father, Sir Richard, make this novel worth snuggling up to with a cup of hot cocoa on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
It is not Great Epic Literature, but it sure is fun.
If you have a review to submit, please send it to the webmaster, rimfire